The Art of Speaking at the HOD First Rounds logo

A Germane Student Perspective

September 16, 2017

By Stephen Lewia, PA-S

Stephen Lewia, PA-S
Stephen Lewia, PA-S

During AAPA House of Delegate (HOD) committee hearings, all are welcome to approach the microphone and give facts and/or opinions (known as testimony) about the resolutions being discussed. Having not experienced this before, and not being a big fan of CSPAN, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Since I was new to the profession, many of my personal perspectives on PA issues were gained from AAPA’s online community discussion forum, the Huddle, (which may or may not be a good thing). Looking back at this year’s HOD, listening to testimony was the best opportunity for a PA student to learn about PA advocacy. And, if listening to these debates wasn’t enough of an experience, one of the first ‘big’ resolutions discussed was Optimal Team Practice (OTP).

Since I came into the HOD with the preconceived notion that I was “down with OTP,” I was interested to hear other points of view. Not only did I get to hear PAs give differing perspectives, but I was humbled by their passion. These people cared about making change in the profession, and were often living in limbo of that change!

What surprised me even more was the group’s inclusivity to students. I got the feeling that not only were students’ voices welcome, but they were encouraged as providing a valuable perspective.

Going into HOD testimony hearings I had no urge to speak. I thought being a student meant I had nothing to add to the conversation. That all changed, however, when OTP discussions turned to PA education. With the potential implementation of OTP, questions were raised as to whether PA programs would be willing/able to adjust to this new policy. Having a graduate degree in education, and experience as a high school science and EMT instructor prior to starting PA school, this discussion struck a chord in me and I felt compelled to voice my opinion.

I learned quickly there was an art to speaking at the HOD. The leader of the testimony hearings, the committee chair, was responsible for managing the testimony given from the floor. The chair’s role was very similar to a judge: ensure that rules are followed and that order is maintained. For controversial topics (such as OTP), it was common to have testimony that overlapped or duplicated. In the interest of time, and the sanity of all present, it was the job of the committee chair to maintain each speaker’s time, and control repetitive testimony. If the committee was hearing the same testimony too many times, the onus was on the chair to interrupt speakers and deem their testimony “non-germane” or repetitive.

By the time I built up enough confidence to speak, I stood up and joined the long line of other individuals waiting to give testimony. As I slowly inched my way closer to the microphone my confidence grew stronger and stronger. After about 30 minutes standing in line, there were only two people between me and the microphone. Having reviewed and edited my speech while in line, I felt more than ready to speak.

Then, in an instant, my heart sank. The committee chairwoman announced the committee had heard enough regarding education and would only accept testimony on other subjects. In other words, unless I had something new to bring to the table, I had no business giving testimony. Those who dared to continue with education testimony risked being shut down. I had two choices: return to my seat with my tail in between my legs, or stay in line and risk humiliation.

I decided to risk it and stay in line. I tried to rationalize a reason my testimony would be special enough to supersede the chairwoman’s request; however, I doubted any of my reasons would be considered legitimate.

As I approached the microphone I introduced myself and thanked her for allowing me to speak; out of respect and in the hope that my good graces would save me. My heart was racing. Nobody knew what I was going to talk about, still, I felt like I was wearing a large sign that said “NON-GERMANE.” I was certain the chairwoman would see right through me. As I first spoke my vocal chords reverted to their middle school configuration: high pitched with frequent cracking.

To my surprise, I was able to give my entire testimony! I succeeded in giving a student perspective of OTP, and dodged a bullet in being shut down. Whether my speech had any impact, I’ll never know; however, I was glad to give testimony responding to others who said that students weren’t ready for OTP. In fact, the other student representatives and I would be affected by the events of this year’s HOD more than any other representatives present. Needless to say, OTP mattered to us.

Later on in the week, I was able to participate as a student representative on a HOD reference committee. Not only were my opinions heard, but they were valued. Through that experience, as well as the remainder of my time at HOD, it became very apparent to me that this organization appreciated the student voice. AAPA leaders and members treated students as peers, seeking our input while sharing their own wisdom; a relationship I wasn’t expecting. I was never made to feel like being a student meant my opinion was less important than seasoned practitioners.

Playing in the sandbox with the big kids (and not getting kicked out for my “NON-GERMANE” shirt), not only built my confidence but also gave me a taste for what a future in AAPA leadership could look like. The HOD experience lit a fire for PA advocacy inside me, and I believe it could do the same for other students.

Stephen Lewia is the president-elect of this year’s AAPA Student Academy. He is a second-year student at Lynchburg College, where he also serves as the president of his class and their student society.  Contact Stephen at [email protected].