I have a confession to make. Despite this show and recently being more interested in the politics affecting PAs, I’ve not been that involved in advocacy in the past.
It’s not that I didn’t CARE about legislative updates, per say. Political advocacy and advocating for PAs and the laws governing them has not been a focus of mine.
As a profession of PAs we are on the cusp of a revolution. The Physician Associate profession is making great strides across the country and state-by-state but those changes only happen with your involvement.
Today I’m sharing what it was like to participate in my first day of in-person advocacy at the state capitol in Pennsylvania.
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Volunteering to Advocate
The hardest part, and I do mean the very hardest part, was getting out of my own head and replying with a YES when the email came in requesting PAs to head to the state capitol to meet with our state senators and representatives.
I felt compelled to volunteer.
So I did what any avoidant type A personality inbox manager would do with such an – I marked it unread (hello, avoidance but wanting to make sure I think about it again when I see it again and again as an unread email, reminding me to make the darn decision for or against).
I thought about it. I reflected back on my conversations with others who have been involved in the past. They spoke with such passion about advancing our career and the legislature affecting PAs in our state.
So, I’m going through all the reasons why I wasn’t qualified to be an advocate for our profession.
- I had never done it before.
- I wasn’t good at Networking with a capital N.
- It wasn’t familiar with how these things worked.
- Heck, I didn’t know what laws had recently been passed or of any that we were working towards.
All of those excuses, though – they’re bullshit. I’m just as qualified as anyone else to show up, shake hands, and share about what PAs do.
The unknown kept that email in my inbox, marked unread, taunting me for far too long. I waited until 2 days before the deadline to RSVP and ripped the band aid off.
Count me in! I filled out the RSVP form and away we went.
Advocacy Day on the Hill
Prepare for a long day, whether you attend for the morning or afternoon or all day long. We were meeting for a briefing and breakfast beforehand at 7:30am. It was an hour and a half away.
Early morning alarm and choosing my outfit, bringing my labcoat, packing my bag with my portfolio, paperwork and, of course, snacks!
I was so nervous. Honestly I didn’t really know what to expect but I was on edge.
Parking in the assigned parking garage, I hustled across the street and up the steps to the hotel where breakfast was – I was overjoyed to see some familiar faces. Folks that I recognized from our local health network, and even a few who had been guests on the podcast in the past.
Everyone was so helpful and welcoming, but also – it seemed most of them had done this before and a lot of them knew each other.
I’ve got to shout out to the team at the Pennsylvania Society of PAs (PSPA)– they were SO organized and had the day scheduled to a T. We had been divided into groups with a team leader in each of our group who was experienced and had been there before.
Visiting the Legislators
We made our way to the capitol building, through security and off we went to our first meeting.
Throughout the day we sat with 5 different legislators with various degrees of knowledge about what PAs are and what we do. There was one who didn’t realize that we see patients, diagnose and treat, and prescribe medications.
There were other representatives who had family members who were PAs, who were excited to hear about the name change on a national level, or who had been medical examiners in the past – we were able to dive a little deeper into the limitations current laws were placing on PAs ability to deliver care to patients.
We started each meeting by introducing ourselves and asking the legislator how familiar they are with PAs. Continuing on we shared the upcoming legislature that we are hoping to introduce in the coming months.
This was truly networking and a social visit. We wanted to remind these representatives who we are and what we are capable of doing.
We will plan to revisit these legislators once we have a bill that’s been introduced to answer their questions and make sure they understand how the passage of these bills will break down barriers to care for patients.
As I was sitting there, highlighting the amount of PA programs in Pennsylvania (30, by the way) and the fact that we will graduate more than 1,000 PAs in the coming year… and that if our new graduate PAs would consider leaving the state if the laws didn’t improve and become more PA and patient friendly… It struck me how deeply important this work is.
These legislators need to understand the ability of PAs to deliver care within our state and meet the needs of the patients in our communities. They are the deciding votes for upcoming changes to improve patient care.
What Surprised Me
Even with great planning and exceptional communication about what to anticipate with Hill Day, there were still a few aspects of the day that still managed to surprise me. In case you are listening to this and considering attending an upcoming Hill Day to advocate for PAs in your state, here are some things I’ve learned from my ONE day on the hill.
I was surprised at the amount of downtime. We had 3 meetings in the morning and 2 after lunch. These meetings were scheduled for 15-30 minutes and located, as I said, all around the building in different wings and sections.
It was interesting and surprising to me how casual the meetings were. Despite wearing suits, ties and shiny dress shoes, the reps and senators were incredibly down to earth, welcoming and generous with their time and attention. We were dressed up, nervous, and ready to hit our talking points each time we sat down in an office and many of the legislators were so kind and interested.
I was both impressed and surprised by the level of working knowledge that the other Hill Day attendees had for previous bills that had been passed. Because they had been a part of advocating for those bills and followed their journey through the legislative pipeline, they were more prepared and better equipped to talk about those bills.
I cannot wait until I’ve been an advocate long enough to see the fruits of our labor come to fruition and change the landscape and regulations governing practice in our state!
The last thing that I found to be surprising to me, as someone who considers myself an extrovert, was how emotionally and physically draining the day was. Not only was it a long day, it was a day entirely filled with communication with others.
It kind of felt like a day where we had 5-back-to-back group interviews. So those nerves and that excitement are intertwined in this experience. It is also my belief that you would feel less nervous the more times that you are in a situation like this.
Next time I won’t be quite so key’d up emotionally. I’ll feel more prepared and truly in these situations, just like patients getting a procedure done for the first time, it can feel like the anticipation is the worst part.
After the Capitol
Once we had finished our meetings we went directly to happy hour. Attended by a mix of legislators and physician associates, alongside our lobbyists, we had drinks and dinner.
This was another opportunity to network with legislators before we wrapped up for the day. I’m going to be honest and say that this portion of the day was more challenging for me.
I love knowing who I’m going to meet with and during the day when we had scheduled meetings with legislators, we had a printout of the person we were meeting with. These printouts included a photo, general information about their district, when they were elected, their party and involvement with committees and a few ancillary pieces of information about their personal life and interests.
But, spoiler alert, I don’t know all the legislators in the entire state on sight… so at this happy hour I didn’t know who was who and I kind of felt like it was expected to. This, by the way, was a completely made up expectation that NO ONE else had for me.
I do that alot and it makes me feel paralyzed with fear and not competent and like I’m not the person for the job… even though I’m standing there in a room and I’m really great with people.
Important to remember that the legislators put the dark navy blue pants of their suit on one leg at a time. My mom always used to say that when she had a big meeting with her upper level executives or someone who was intimidating or maybe even a jerk – they put their pants on one leg at a time. They are another human being, too.
I found those conversations to be generally less intimidating than I anticipated. We would chat about life and each of our shared lived experiences and occasionally about PAs, but mostly it was simply a get-to-know you chat without significant pressure.
Advocacy + Networking
The other, unanticipated benefit of attending Hill Day, was the networking opportunity with other PAs and PA students in my state. For more thoughts on networking and how networking is downright vital, a key element of making strategic career moves, check out Episode 172: Networking 101.
So, the other people in my group, in these meetings and at lunch and happy hour – are PAs and PA students. They were from across the great state of Pennsylvania working in all specialties from students ready to graduate, to Jacqui, the PA doing bone health, to Urology, Pediatric Psych, Primary Care, Anesthesiology and more.
These connections, spending the day alongside these others, increased my personal network. It connected me to others. It reminded me of the challenges others were facing in their positions and the rules, policies and laws that these professionals were up against.
I had a chance to sit down and chat with the PA students who had come to join us for Hill Day. These were, albeit short, some of my favorite conversations of the day. I love being able to connect with those who are still young, naive, and downright excited about the future of medicine.
One of the students shared her interest and a passion she had for a specific underserved subset of patients in a specialty she wants to go into and it made me so freaking happy for her. I’m proud to have such exceptional students joining our ranks and becoming certified, practicing PAs in the coming years.
I digress, this opportunity to network and speak with other PAs and students, it helped me to feel more connected with other PAs in my area of the state and other areas. We need that community. It can do so easy to feel like you are in a silo or on an island in your practice, specialty or network. The ability to connect again with others who simply “get it” and have a shared experience is powerful.
Advocacy is Not For Me
Now, if you’ve made it this far in hearing my regaling retelling of Hill Day and are thinking you cannot pay me enough to go to the state capitol, advocate for the PA profession and meet with legislators, never fear.
There are many ways to advocate. These advocacy avenues include making phone calls, writing emails, or sending thank you letters, doing organization or administrative prep in advance or simply donating to your state and the AAPA Political Action Committee, there are things that you can do from your couch in your jammies after hours.
Make sure you are supporting your state organization with your membership dues. They are working hard. Oftentimes their board positions are volunteer. They are tirelessly working to advocate for you so that you will have less barriers to practice medicine to the fullest of your ability in your state.
The next time that an email comes asking you to raise your hand, volunteer and get involved, consider greeting that email with a resounding YES.