As a candidate for AAPA Secretary Treasurer in the current election, which started April 1, I’m fired up about the contest, fully engaged and voted as quickly as I could.

But it’s not just because I’m a candidate. I’ve always been like that with AAPA elections. That makes me one of about 8% who vote these days.

Let’s look at what that means for a few states. In Idaho, there were 233 eligible voters in the 2013 election, and 13 voted. Colorado had 828 voters eligible, and 47 cast their votes. Texas had 1,983 voters, with but 188 engaged in the electronic polling. Hawaii had 72 eligible PAs, and 6 voted.

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Why is it that so many PAs are not engaged enough to take ten minutes, log on to a website, read some platforms and vote for a few colleagues?

Historically, we’ve blamed members for not caring, for just being too busy to vote, or for not being sophisticated enough to understand the complex organizational issues needed to engage in the voting process.

But this view completely misses the naked truth about why so many PAs don’t care: it’s because the AAPA has failed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the AAPA is on track in many ways. But in the “creatively reaching out to engage members” category, the AAPA does not fare well.  

Look at one clear example. Last year, in the face of struggling membership numbers, the AAPA Board decided to unilaterally eliminate almost all of the standing volunteer committees, which have historically been key conduits and pathways for PAs interested in engaging in AAPA activities to enter that realm.

It wasn’t a popular decision, and the board was forced to back track and reinstitute some of the committees. But the process was not without lots of bruising and caused stress among many members, which certainly took its toll on  interest. All of this did very little to help PAs care about voting for the Board of Directors.

Another example is the rigid and complex requirements that must be met to run for the AAPA board. This is something that should be an open and easy process, but instead is complex, difficult to understand and downright un-fun. Here are the requirements from the AAPA policy manual:

Eligibility and Qualifications of Candidates for Elected Positions Other Than Student Director or Nominating Work Group Member.
a. A candidate must be a fellow member of the AAPA.

b. A candidate must be a member of an AAPA Chapter.

c. A candidate must have been an AAPA fellow member for the last three years.

d. A candidate must have accumulated at least three distinct years of experience in the past five years in at least two of the following major areas of professional involvement. This experience requirement will be waived for currently sitting AAPA board members who choose to run for a subsequent term of office.

i. An AAPA or constituent organization officer, board member, committee, council, commission, work group, task force chair

ii. A delegate or alternate to the AAPA House of Delegates

iii. A board member, trustee, or committee chair of the PA Foundation, Society for the Preservation of Physician Assistant History, American Academy of Physician Assistants Political Action Committee, Physician Assistant Education Association or National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

iv. AAPA board appointees.

“Usability” is a popular concept these days in web-design, and one of the most basic tenets of assessing usability is to understand that when people don’t use something. When people don’t use something, this is in indication that its design or function is flawed. Usability is grounded in the democratic belief that people will do what is logical and serves their needs, and won’t do what doesn’t.

There are many factors which contribute to why PAs don’t vote. I hope you will, and you can do so here at www.aapa/election. But if you don’t, it’s not a crime, and it’s not really an indication that you are doing something wrong.

Instead, it’s indicative of an association that has not yet found the right way to make the AAPA usable for you. If we can continue to build a more usable AAPA, maybe we can start to turn this thing around.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is chair of the American Academy of Physician Assistants Health Disparities Work Group, founder of Physician Assistants for Health Equity and faculty of the Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.