SAN FRANCISCO — Members of Congress receive 538% more written communications than they did five years ago, but despite this overload physician assistants (PAs) are well poised within their local communities to advocate on behalf of the profession, according to Kristin Butterfield, the Director of Grassroots Advocacy for the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
“PAs and PA students are the only folks specifically talking to congress about PA issues,” said Butterfield during her presentation at the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) 2015 annual meeting.
It is said that all politics are local and that certainly rings true for PAs, according to Butterfield. PAs can begin their advocacy efforts at the local level by reaching out to their members of Congress both as constituents and as highly educated medical providers.
The most effective way to reach out to legislators is through arranging in-person meetings, but technology and social media can also play a critical role in modern grassroots advocacy, said Butterfield. More than 90% of Congress members are on Facebook and 85% are on Twitter.
Interacting through these channels in a positive, educational way can help increase visibility for PA legislative issues. But in-person meetings are always better, she stressed. For those unsure of whom their congressional representatives are, the AAPA website provides an advocacy toolkit that helps providers identify and reach out to their members of Congress.
“Invite your representative to your hospital, clinic, or practice,” said Butterfield. Town hall meetings are another option. Butterfield suggested that PAs come dressed in their white coats prepared to provide concise information about legislation important to PAs. Inviting local representatives to participate on advisory boards, providing meaningful follow-up, and identifying common interests can also help build up personal relationships with policy makers.
Very few politicians have medical experience — there are only 17 physicians, 4 nurses, and one PA in the 114th Congress. When PAs position themselves as experienced medical providers, they can provide expertise on complex medical issues and become a resource to their representatives.
Whether it be via sending follow-up emails, speaking at town hall meetings, or making phone calls, providers need to personalize their advocacy efforts by telling an anecdote that illustrates the problem that PAs can fix, if given the opportunity to practice at the top of their license.
Remember that Congressional staffers use software to sniffs out form letters, so the more personalized and specific communication is, especially in email, the more likely it is to be received. “Our professional organizations are the voice,” said Butterfield. “But PAs are the megaphone.”