Over the last 10 or 12 years, my level of political activity has varied widely. I have had long periods of apathy and complete unawareness, and I also have walked the halls of the state capitol and had meetings with legislators regarding bills that would have a significant impact on my profession here in Texas. But most of the time I have been somewhere in between.

In any given election of officers in the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants (TAPA), the end of voting takes place at a TAPA conference attended by 500 to 600 members, yet only 200 to 250 bother to take 60 seconds to fill out a ballot. It really makes me sad.

On the other end of the spectrum is the core of dedicated volunteers who make up the politically informed and active arm of our state professional association and the leadership past and present. They give untold hours of their time to keep up with the shifting landscape that is Texas politics (and respond to it accordingly).

Even within this group there is a smaller element that probably does 90% of the heavy lifting. I suspect these observations translate fairly to most of our professions and associations. So, in my casual observation, we here in Texas have about 10 really politically active leaders. How about in your state?

If it sounds like a damning indictment, well…it is. Politics, laws, rules and regulations are the very core of what drives what clinicians can and can’t do; it determines reimbursement and therefore your salary. To be blissfully unaware is lazy. To be aware and completely uninvolved is just shameful.

I am not shilling for everyone to join their professional society. It isn’t for everyone. But if you are uninvolved you don’t get to complain about what they do or don’t do. Rather, you can complain, but why should you be taken seriously?

Also, it would be disingenuous to run to your professional society for help when something goes wrong. I might add that you should feel a pang of guilt when you reap the benefit of your association’s work.

Still not convinced that professional association activity is a great way to be politically involved? I don’t blame you. I personally am not a joiner, although I have been a TAPA member for a long time. But you can still stay involved by reading professional journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs to keep up with the state and federal happenings that affect your profession and health care in your area. Send letters, faxes and e-mails to legislators who are sponsoring bills that interest you. Then send a copy to your own representatives.

You don’t have to go on a rant; just briefly state your opinion and why you have it. List your credentials as well: Not only does that lend an air of professionalism to your comments, it makes the recipient aware that your profession is paying attention. Your opinion does matter — I recently received a call from my U.S. Representative as a follow-up to a short opinion I sent in. (Seeing “U.S. Government” on the caller ID display is a somewhat frightening experience!)

Want to step it up a little? Join societies or associations that share your values and concerns. You may even decide to become a committee member or the chair or run for an officer’s seat. Time, not money, is the most valuable commodity volunteer organizations have.

Feel a little twinge of guilt? Then my work here is done.

Scott Stegall, PhD, PA-C, is an Army-trained PA and past vice president of the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants. He has practiced in rural health since leaving the military in 1995.