September 21, 2021
Three Volunteers Give Back to the Profession through Advocacy
March 3, 2020
By Eileen Denne, CAE, APR
This article was originally published in March 2018.
When asked why she attends events like the “PA Day on the Hill,” held each year in Washington, D.C., Becky Ness, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, confessed, “Because it is important to advocate for the profession and our patients at the federal level.” But really, Ness said, “I always come to Hill day; I’d miss it if I didn’t make it.”
As immediate past president of Minnesota Academy of PAs (MAPA), Ness was well-versed in the issues PAs discussed on Capitol Hill, including home healthcare and diabetic shoes. A PA for 17 years, she works in nephrology for Mayo Clinic in Mankato, Minnesota, and does outreach in satellite clinics and dialysis. This was her sixth year attending AAPA’s Leadership and Advocacy Summit (LAS), which includes PA Day on the Hill. She attended representing the American Academy of Nephrology PAs.
Ness and her colleague Leslie Milteer, PA-C, also a past president of MAPA, currently serve as legislative co-chairs for MAPA and together they coached MAPA president Erin Rysavy, MPH, PA-C, on how to engage in advocacy activities.
“For me it is my duty as president to advocate for the profession,” Rysavy said. “There is important work that needs to get done. I don’t always feel I am the most articulate or knowledgeable, but the only way you learn is by practicing.”
Rysavy has been a PA for 17 years and works in orthopedics with St. Cloud Orthopedics. This was her third year attending LAS.
The three women feel a shared responsibility to actively participate in MAPA. Milteer described it as the “if not me, then who?” theory from Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax”:
“But now,” says the Once-ler, “now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
“We’re super involved; we’re joiners!” Milteer said enthusiastically. A PA for 20 years, Milteer is busy holding three professional positions: as full-time faculty at Saint Catherine University MPAS program, maintaining clinical work in family medicine with North Memorial Health, and as a clinical content reviewer for Oakstone publishing, in addition to her work as MAPA legislative co-chair and AAPA House of Delegates representative. This was her fourth trip to Capitol Hill.
“Our professional responsibility as a PA extends beyond medical knowledge to a broader understanding of healthcare delivery and how the profession fits into it,” Milteer said. She impressed AAPA Director of Federal Advocacy Chris Stewart with her ability to effectively communicate patient needs when speaking with congressional offices.
AAPA’s Director of Grassroots Advocacy, Kristen Butterfield, laid the groundwork for PAs on the Hill Thursday morning. She described the reasons PAs need to be advocates. Following Milteer’s Lorax theory, Butterfield said to the audience of more than 200 PAs and PA students: “If you don’t advocate, who will do it? The best advocates for PAs and their patients are PAs.” She continued to say that PAs can make the issues local, personal, and relevant and can tie federal barriers to the impact on patient care. This will help the PA message rise above all of the noise common on Capitol Hill.
The three MAPA members had meetings set up with members of the Minnesota congressional delegation, many of whom are already supporters of PAs. To prepare for their Hill meetings, Rysavy, Ness, and Milteer reviewed the materials that AAPA provided on the issues and made notes to connect them to their practice. When asked if they knew what they were going to say to legislators, Milteer said they were pretty relaxed about it because they were well-prepared and had met with their members before. Their visits began in the Senate and ended in the House. Each visit provided an opportunity to educate an office about PA education and training and the barriers PAs face in providing care to their patients.
Following the meetings, Rysavy said of PA Day on the Hill, “I think it went well. The bills that we were asked to talk about are bipartisan and not controversial so it was a fairly comfortable conversation.”
Ness stressed the importance of follow-up after the legislative visits and the need to maintain the line of communication instead of a ‘one and done’ meeting.
“You’re fired up and then you get home and life happens and six months later you say, ‘I should reach out– where did I put that business card?’ The lesson is to maintain that communication. Send yourself a reminder on your phone and in Outlook to follow up in 4-6 weeks. Reach out and say thanks for the meeting and ask if the legislator has questions and invite them to visit your practice when they are home in Minnesota.”
Milteer was forceful about the need for advocacy. “Our profession has the potential to be key in terms of increasing access and lowering cost. We’re moving in the right direction. We need to be a little more brazen to speak out about ourselves and what we can do because no one else will do it. We have to deliver our message in the context of what is best for patients, the profession, and healthcare in general.”
“Every PA needs to do something, even if it is small. We don’t have to be political junkies; we just need to speak up, whether it is with a legislator or in the clinic, it all matters. We can’t lay the responsibility for advocacy on a few. Everyone has to contribute in some measure to benefit our patients,” she concluded.
The three PA activists from Minnesota will have another opportunity to practice their lobbying skills during Minnesota’s Day at the State Capitol on April 17.
Eileen Denne, CAE, APR, is director of corporate communications at AAPA. Contact her at [email protected].