USC PA Students Spend Spring Break Working on Advocacy Skills — Not Tans

Last month, 35 students from the Primary Care PA Program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC visited Washington, DC, during their spring break to learn about advocacy and meet with their representatives on Capitol Hill. The students met with a record number of members of Congress this year, including Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), among others.

During their visit, the students explored the nature of leadership and the importance of lifelong PA advocacy thanks to training from PAEA’s Government Relations team and Q&A sessions with PAEA President Lisa Mustone Alexander and CEO Timi Agar Barwick. They also participated in a panel discussion with key health policy leaders and toured the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings.

Student Julia Hurtado meets with Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL). Photo: Claire Norman, Keck School of Medicine of USC

“As somebody who receives a scholarship through HRSA funds, I think it is really awesome to feel like I have a voice in continuing trying to support that,” said student Cooper Couch. “I also have a personal story that I was able to share with the people who are making changes and voting on the pieces of legislation that will help future PA students like me.”

The policy focus of this year’s advocacy trip was the proposed reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, a major legislative undertaking that has the potential to significantly impact PA education. Specifically, the students advocated for three key priorities when meeting with their representatives’ offices:

  • The institution of annual and aggregate borrowing parity for PA students under the Federal Direct Stafford Loan program
  • Preservation of the Grad PLUS loan option
  • Protection of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program

In addition to these components of the Higher Education Act, students also had the opportunity to advocate on behalf of key Title VII programs such as Primary Care Training and Enhancement grants and Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students, which serve to expand access to high-quality PA education.

Students meet with Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA). Photo: Claire Norman, Keck School of Medicine of USC

“I grew up in an underserved area. I think that improving accessibility of funding for higher education and making it more accessible for people who really do want to go and serve and give back to their community — I think it is important,” said student Erick Santos. “There is a passion out there, and we need to equip [people] with the tools they need to reach their full potential.”

The students’ time on Capitol Hill culminated with an evening reception in the Cannon House Office Building, organized with the help of the office of Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), the only PA in Congress. During the reception, students had the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and discuss future advocacy opportunities with PAEA and AAPA Government Relations staff.

The PAEA Government Relations team would like to thank USC’s PA program faculty for their ongoing commitment to leadership development and the USC students for their excellent work advocating on behalf of PA education.