Gov't Relations

PA Student Asks Congress to Make a House Call

By Russell Smith, MPASDecember 20, 2016

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

A Student Health Policy Fellow brings his Washington, DC, experience back to his school — literally.

For my PAEA Student Health Policy Fellowship project, I decided to ask my local representative of Congress to visit my school to give a talk about the importance of advocacy and what we can accomplish by bringing issues to our legislators. I had underestimated how difficult this project would be. At first it seemed pretty straight forward, but as I began the process of contacting all the parties involved, I quickly realized it wasn’t going to be an easy task.

The First Step

First I reached out to my program director for the PA program at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) to see if the school would allow me to set up a visit and schedule a speech for Congressman James McGovern. Initially, the school was hesitant, saying it did not want to appear to be taking a political side. At the same time, I started working with Rep. McGovern’s office, and they offered to reach out to my school to request permission for the visit.

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Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) addressing PA class at MCPHS. Photo Credit: Michael Ratty

After looking over the proposal, MCPHS granted the request. Then it became a matter of coordinating the visit to occur on one of our professional seminar days at the end of each clinical rotation block. Fortunately, MCPHS was flexible, allowing the schedule to be fluid to accommodate Rep. McGovern’s schedule. The hardest part of the entire process was to get one of the available days to work for Rep. McGovern from the nine dates that I offered him. As weeks went by and it got closer to the end of the year, the school allowed me to offer other days that coincided with our end of rotation exam dates to help facilitate the visit. In the end, Rep. McGovern was kind enough to take time to make the visit the week before this year’s election in November.

A Surprising Message 

I felt that it was essential for at least the graduating class to hear from Rep. McGovern on the importance of advocacy and how much of a voice we have as health care providers. When he arrived that morning, we spoke before he addressed the class. He was very open to touching on issues that I felt were most important, and said that he would prefer to make it more of an open forum than just having him talk for two hours.

He started off by speaking about how and why he came to work in politics. Then he talked about how Congress and the public all work together as a team to try to address problems facing our society. He used the opioid epidemic as an example, telling the class how members of Congress need to hear from experts in their fields so they can be better informed. This will then guide them in how to best carry out the lawmaking process to help us better take care of patients. Next he took questions from the class and talked a great deal about how he believes that PAs are on the frontline to help patients combat hunger. He was surprised to hear how expensive it is to become a PA and that the burden of loan repayment deterred some future PAs from going into family medicine.

The whole talk was really well-received. One of the strongest, and somewhat surprising, messages that he delivered was that if a group just half the size of our audience showed up to his or any other Congressperson’s office, it would be a movement — and the legislator would have to take their message seriously and work on it.

Creating a Tradition

It was an amazing experience to have been able to coordinate his visit. The school was pleased with how it all went and expressed an interest in making a similar visit part of the clinical year for all future classes. So the next step will be to reach out to Rep. McGovern’s office and see if it is something they would be interested in continuing and, if so, appoint a contact person at MCPHS who can handle the logistics of future visits to allow this valuable education experience to continue for future PA students.

Russell Smith, MPAS
Russell Smith, MPAS

Russell, a paramedic for 23 years, retired to pursue his dream of becoming a PA and doing more for his patients. Having graduated from PA school in late 2016, he is looking forward to a career in neonatal medicine.