Bringing Congress to Your Program: A PA Educator’s Experience

Along with vacations and back-to-school shopping, late summer brings a key advocacy opportunity for PA education: Congressional district work periods. During district work periods, members of Congress and their staff dedicate time to visiting institutions in their local community to learn about the needs and priorities of their constituents. These visits are an opportunity for Congress members to gather critical information that can inform policy agendas back in Washington. Facilitating program visits is an excellent opportunity to bring congressional offices up to speed on the contributions of PA educators to the future health workforce, the challenges programs face, and how federal policy can assist programs in overcoming barriers.

The Government Relations team recently spoke with University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences PA Program Director and Government Relations Steering Committee member, Edward Williams, DMSc, MEd, PA-C, on his experience facilitating a site visit for the office of Congressman French Hill. Williams offers his advice to programs interested in pursuing this form of legislative outreach.

What motivated you to get involved in advocacy?

Being involved in PA education and seeing all of the legislative barriers both at the state and national level that prevent PAs from exercising their full scope of practice, I knew being a part of a committee such as the PAEA Government Relations Steering Committee (GRSC) would be the first step in making change.

How did the visit with Congressman Hill’s office come about?

During the GRSC annual Hill Day event, I had an opportunity to talk with Congressman Hill’s legislative assistant Amelia Allert. In that conversation, I invited her to take a tour of our program the next time she was in Little Rock. Several days after that call, she asked if she could have that tour, and we were more than happy to host her.

What was the process for arranging the visit?

The process for coordinating the visit was very straightforward. Once she confirmed the date and time, I simply notified my Dean and our Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Relations. I also reached out to the class presidents from each of our three cohorts and asked them to be available with another student from their cohort to give Amelia a tour of the classroom and lab area. We also informed the faculty and staff of her visit so that they would be prepared to meet her.

What did you discuss during the tour?

Initially, our discussion focused on the PA profession in Arkansas as well as PA education. I provided her with a packet of information on our program and university and touched on some of the highlights. We also discussed some initiatives that Congressman Hill has prioritized. Later in the conversation, we discussed some of the challenges with securing clinical rotations in our state and our plans to work on getting a bill introduced to provide a tax incentive for preceptors here in Arkansas. The students shared their experiences as they progress through our program and also discussed some of the technology that they use in labs and in simulation.

Why do you think it is important for members of Congress and their staff to get a first-hand look at the PA programs in their districts/states?

It is important because it gives the program an opportunity to hear and understand what their congressional representative’s legislative priorities are so that the program knows how their needs may fit. It is also an opportunity to mention some of the challenges that their program faces that could be resolved with legislative action. Usually, visits are not the best time to push a particular policy priority and are more focused instead on sharing the experience of PA education with policymakers. This is also a time for them to connect with PA students and better understand what goes into their education.

What recommendations would you give to other programs interested in arranging a site visit with the offices of their elected representatives?

I think they can simply reach out to their elected representative’s office, ask to arrange a site visit/tour, and explain what they hope to achieve. I have been very surprised at how communicative the legislative assistants are and how willing they are to meet with their boss’ constituents. I also recommend before reaching out that programs do some homework and know who the assistant is that they may be making the arrangements through. Also, just be yourself.

What would you tell another faculty member interested in becoming active in advocacy?

I encourage those interested in advocacy to do what I did and look for volunteer opportunities through PAEA and apply when there are openings. My volunteer service on the Government Relations Steering Committee has been an excellent learning experience for me and a great way to understand how politics affect our programs, students, and profession. PAEA’s Government Relations team offers technical support to all member programs interested in facilitating a program tour with their federal representatives. To submit a request, simply visit the Grassroots Action Network, and a staff member will be in touch.