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Federal Advocacy Forum Student Reflections 2018

2018 Federal Advocacy Forum Scholarship Winners

Drew Lukes, SPT

My view on the impact one can have while engaging in the process of politically advocating changed significantly after attending the Federal Advocacy Forum in Washington, DC. I have never been a political individual. Growing up I had parents that never discussed politics. I don’t believe this was due to an apathy toward the subject; instead something that merely took the back seat to other topics of conversation and discussion. As a result of this and many other factors, I never saw the importance behind being politically involved. During college and after I have voted in every election possible. However, doing so was simply to fulfill my civic duty instead of believing the individuals who I vote for can actually effect change. My governmental affairs involvement ended there. 

My view toward the process of government was deeply cynical – and in some ways that cynicism was well founded. Images of our government and the sometimes dysfunctional process that is portrayed on TV and in the news is one that doesn’t instill a ton of hope in our elected officials. In the past, a part of my lack of desire to dive further into politics was due to a deep seeded mistrust in the individuals running our government, as well as the democratic process in its current form. I saw a body of people that were divided down party lines instead of united, stuck in stalemates instead of creating impactful policy, and more interested in themselves and their careers instead serving the American people. It is for all of those reasons that I steered clear of anything political. 

To a certain extent, I still believe there are aspects of my analysis that are true and disheartening. Our government and politics seem more deeply divided now than in any other time during my short lifetime. With that said, I have come to see through the process of participating in MN Day on the Hill and the FAF this year that my cynical view was, in part, based on my own ignorance. The hopeless I felt when it came to “making a difference” in the political sphere was in part due to the fact that I had never actually tried to make a difference. I was much more willing to take the easy way out – sitting on the sideline and discussing how it was impossible to make change, instead of working to change. It was an entirely passive approach instead of the active approach. 

My time in DC was life changing. I don’t say that lightly. My entire outlook on the importance of lobbying at a local, state and national level has changed almost entirely. Throughout my time spent on the Hill and with other processionals in the Physical Therapy profession, learned about the process of lobbying and the importance of working to be heard. I can honestly say that after being involved I am more excited than ever to dig into federal, state and local affairs. Additionally, my cynicism has diminished almost entirely. I have a new found understanding of the importance of the APTA, the PT PAC and the work necessary to make change in the healthcare system. It is empowering to be heard. It is infectiously addicting to identify an issue, discuss that issue with an individual working on one’s behalf, and then see change occur. 

My hope is to continue to be involved with government affairs at all levels moving forward. I am looking forward becoming a Key Contact once my wife and I settle down into an area after I graduate. I look forward to partaking in MN Day on the Hill and FAF in years to come. We have to fight for ourselves and our profession – that is no one else’s duty but ours. Fighting is now what I intend to do. 


Samantha Rude, SPT

The 2018 Federal Advocacy Forum was a transformative experience for me. PT advocacy is at the forefront of our professional development. In order to enact positive change, we must make a commitment to advocate for ourselves and our patients. However, advocacy cannot simply be a one-time event. It is imperative for students and professionals alike to get involved and stay involved in advocacy efforts, which can start with becoming an APTA member. It takes additional and unpaid time to participate in events like Minnesota Day on the Hill and the Federal Advocacy Forum, but these are tangible ways we each can positively impact our own careers as PTs and PTAs. Because the focus of advocacy is our patients’ well-being, we can come together on issues relating to improved access and care. 

While I knew that I was interested in health policy and advocacy prior to attending, this three-day event solidified my plans to incorporate advocacy into my career. I came away from the event with knowledge of specific actions I can take now, even as a student, to advocate for my future patients. Not only does each individual student, professional, and staff member play a role in this process, having a large and representative group of voices is vital for shaping the direction and outlook of the PT profession. My time at the FAF, more than any other event, convinced me of the impact our APTA membership dollars can have on improving our profession for the sake of our patients.

The most impactful part of the forum was the opportunity to learn from PTs and PTAs who make advocacy an essential part of their careers. Their active commitment to advocacy is both inspiring and motivating. The participation of over 70 students out of the 277 FAF attendees is also indicative of strong leadership in the PT community and a dedication on their part to future PT professionals. Because of their encouragement, this event can be a starting point for myself and countless others to be PT advocates throughout our careers.

This year, I was able to celebrate the culmination of 20 years of hard work to repeal the Medicare therapy cap alongside the passionate PTs and PTAs who made it happen. Without their dedication, this would still be a barrier for patients receiving outpatient PT under Medicare. While the therapy cap repeal was a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go in improving access to our services. We have a duty to our patients and communities to provide the best care possible within our scope of practice and this is reliant on access to physical therapy. Progress toward the goal of early and affordable access to PT is one of the primary reasons I am so passionate about advocacy. 

On the final day at the forum, I was able to participate in six meetings with legislators at the Capitol. I was thoroughly impressed by the relationships cultivated between APTA members and our representatives from Minnesota over the years. With those less familiar with the field, providing clinical stories and outcomes-based data was essential for gaining their support of our overall message. Fortunately, most individuals I met with had very positive experiences with physical therapy and readily understood the benefits of access to PT for things like combatting the opioid crisis. I am looking forward to continuing the conversations I started at this event, with participants and legislators alike, in the upcoming years and throughout my career. 


Kate Zenker, SPT

Instead of writing a monograph on how much I learned at the APTAFAF, how I got there, why I loved it, and why I think every PT in Minnesota should go at least once, I’ve collected some of the questions I was asked at the Forum and a few I personally think are important to answer.


How did you choose to become a PT?

In a very odd way that somehow worked out: with logic and common sense, rather than a lot of personal experience. I knew that I loved science and people, but after doing ecology research through college and teaching high school after graduation, I knew those weren’t quite it. Most other opportunities are in the medical fields, but with two MDs as parents, medical school was not appealing. I also knew that I wanted autonomy rather than being someone’s assistant, that I wasn’t interested in working nights and weekends, and that I needed to have daily, one-on-one time making the lives of individuals measurably better. With my physics background, PT it was!


The day when I knew in my bones rather than just my brain that this was the only thing I could possibly spend my life doing was when I shadowed Cindy Jarosch, a pediatric acute care PT, at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. At the end of my first day, I came home and told my family, “I want her job!” Actually, I’ve had that experience over and over since then working with and observing different PTs around the Twin Cities. I love this profession, what it offers to patients and communities, and the DPTs, PTAs, SPTs, and SPTAs I’ve met, more than I ever expected someone could.


How did you end up at the Federal Advocacy Forum?

All through college, I was very involved in social justice, particularly issues surrounding diversity, racism, and representation on my campus. It was what I lived and breathed, and led me to my second major in anthropology. As I got to know the PT profession a bit better, I realized that access to care was far from equally distributed, and that the urban poor, rural poor, communities of color, First Nations, immigrants, and refugees were suffering most because of it. I still remember observing a session with a patient who had traveled via public transportation for an hour to get from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul for their appointment, and was planning on the same trip back to attend school that morning. That patient never made it back to see the PT for their musculoskeletal pain. I was crushed! If PT is everything I believed it to be, why was it so desperately difficult for someone in my city to access care? Why wasn’t it available and insured at a level that would make easy for this patient to get the care that they needed?


On January 31, 2018, Eva Norman came and talked to my DPT class about Federal Advocacy, and I was enthralled. All the issues facing the PT profession that I cared about most were answered or ignored or limited by federal legislation! If I wanted the profession to become what it could be and to be accessible to everyone who needed it, I needed to be in Washington D.C. for the FAF! Within a week, I had cleared attending with my professors and applied for the stipend.


How would you describe the FAF to someone who had never been?

It’s 275 of the most passionate leaders in the PT/PTA community working toward a few very specific legislative goals at the same time. We start with a day and a half of diving into the issues, honing our advocacy, and getting a snapshot of the state of the profession as a whole (with lots of conversation over coffee or at a local bar afterward). One of my new friends commented that the room is packed with the kind of people you would search for for hours at CSM to find one or two of - all in the same room. The second full day sees every single senator’s and representative’s office being visited by between one and thirty DPTs, PTAs, SPTs, and SPTAs from their state or district to brief key staffers and politicians on the way that current legislation and issues would affect their constituents and our patients.


On the ground, it looks like two and half very full, very long days of stretching your brain, forming new friendships with the cream of the crop from across the country, brainstorming battle plans, celebrating successes, prioritizing patients, and casually looking up from your walk back from dinner to notice that you’re in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


What was most surprising to you?

Given the amount of work I was doing to keep up and stay involved before and during the Forum, I was absolutely floored by the commitment that the APTA staff and leaders made, year after year, to promote our profession for the sake of our current and future patients. I shouldn’t have been - I knew the APTA was a big deal with four major conferences and thousands of members, but I was unprepared for the passion and selflessness that everyone had!


The other surprise was the personal investment of the whole Minnesota delegation to me and the other 2 students. Each of them was willing to introduce me to whomever they were with, wanted to get to know me, and actively worked to ensure that my first FAF was as successful as it could possibly be. It was humbling for a first-year PT student, and I was deeply honored to advocate alongside them.


When were you really hooked? Pick one moment or conversation from the FAF.

The bait was getting to know my new #PTfam. The hook was talking to Sen. Smith’s Health Legislative Aide about the PROSPER Act and seeing her scribbling notes as her eyes got wider and wider when I talked about what its financial impact on students really is. Me personally being there, talking about legislation that affected me, my classmates, and our future patients, really, truly influenced her! Not every staffer we met with was as transparent, but expect me at the FAF every year that it’s humanly possible.


What was the most valuable experience?

I was the only constituent from MN02 at the FAF, so I led the meeting with my congressman’s Legislative Director. It was a tough one. She didn’t initially agree with our stance on certain pieces of legislation, and there wasn’t an established relationship between the APTA and that office yet to smooth those differences. Leading the discussion on our concerns and hopes, hearing her responses, and finding ways to address the congressman’s priorities without backing down on what our patients needed was exactly the kind of diplomacy I had flown to D.C. to do. I learned more from that conversation about advocacy and my own strengths and weaknesses than in the other four meetings on the Hill combined.


What’s your non-FAF highlight from D.C.?

The East Wing of the National Gallery! I’m a total sucker for modern and contemporary art, especially from around 1910 - 1950, and that collection is stunning.


Go-to bar?

The Dubliner! It was on my D.C. bucket list and was where some of the richest conversations happened. It’s a fairly traditional Irish pub where it’s not uncommon to hear Irish accents or even Gaelic when congress is in session! Being 2.5 blocks from our hotel didn’t hurt either.


Do you have any tips for students who are headed to FAF for the first time?

  1. Connect with the APTA Student Assembly Board of Directors! These are the students who have been through the FAF before, know the APTA and the key players, and are just as passionate about it as you are. Pick their brains and get their perspectives on your questions about what APTA, FAF, and physical therapy are really about.
  2. Lean in to your state delegation. Even the PTs from MN who weren’t directly mentoring me or sharing a hotel room made themselves available and became friends and valuable connections.
  3. Bring business cards and don’t be afraid to give them to leaders you’ll meet from other states. These are the ones who will be future employers and mentors, who you’ll serve with in your practice sections, and who you’ll want to keep learning from as a new grad. Always have some on you, especially in unscheduled time outside of the sessions. Bring more than you think you’ll need to your Hill visits. I guarantee you’ll meet someone unexpected during the Forum and want to stay in touch with them.
  4. Get on twitter before arriving! Even if you’re swamped with social media already, start an account a week or two before the FAF and reach out to your mentors and the APTASA Board there. “I think we follow each other on twitter” is an acceptable introduction line at the FAF and all other APTA conferences!


What about feedback for FAF pros?

  • Don’t just say hello to students you meet. Find what you have in common with them, pull them into conversations, and make sure they make the connections you think they’ll need. I know from experience that I’m preaching to the choir, but those efforts made a major difference in my FAF.
  • If your state or section doesn’t have a student scholarship or stipend for attending the FAF, prioritize that. I can think of at least a dozen students who wouldn’t have made it without established PTs, DPT programs, and organizations using their money to say, “This really matters. We want you to join us.” As a student, I know that even $250 can make the difference in someone attending the FAF.


Any tips for the other 51 weeks of advocacy out of the year?

Advocacy doesn’t have to be a full time job if you take little steps to stay involved. Stephanie Weyrauch nailed it at the Student Advocacy session:

     At least skim the APTA emails to stay caught up. (I have a goal of reading one article per email.)

     Read PT in Motion, the national PT journal. There’s a Professional Pulse section that summarizes key issues and advances in an accessible way.

     Show up at conferences!

     Follow other advocates on social media, especially twitter.

One of the other speakers (Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation) brought up another easy way to stay involved: comment on your legislators’ social media posts - they’re all on facebook and twitter. 80% of staffers said that as few as 10-30 comments was enough to impact how they advised their boss on the issues.


Final thoughts:

Physical therapy, the APTA, the impact of federal policy, and the Federal Advocacy Forum are all bigger and deeper than I could have wrapped my mind around without this experience. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration at all to call the trip “life changing,” though I wasn’t sure how it could be that impactful when Eva Norman told our class that in January. Even as I write this a few days after the Forum, I already cannot imagine a future in which I am not involved in representing physical therapy at the highest levels and working with the absolutely incredible community of PTs and PTAs that are pushing us to be the best we can be as a profession. It’s simply what our patients deserve.

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