Advocacy

Sustained Advocacy in the Era of COVID-19

By Tyler Smith, MPHMay 6, 2020

Image: Shutterstock

In response to new realities imposed by COVID-19, advocacy has undergone a significant transformation.

A professional environment previously dominated by meetings on Capitol Hill, receptions, and fundraisers has rapidly been replaced by emails, conference calls, and letter-writing campaigns as advocates diligently work to advance their cause. Recognizing this need to adapt, PA education advocates have responded with a spirit of innovation and dedication in the interest of preserving the nation’s pipeline of future clinicians, who have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.

Last week, Quinnipiac PA student Delilah Dominguez, a 2019–20 Student Health Policy Fellow who was recently named 2020 PA Student of the Year by AAPA, displayed how it is possible to engage in impactful virtual advocacy even in challenging circumstances. Prior to the pandemic, Dominguez had planned to conduct a tour of her program for Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal as her community-based advocacy project. However, when forced to re-evaluate and adapt her approach to this uncertain environment, Dominguez was able to quickly coordinate with both her institution and the office of Senator Blumenthal to convene a Zoom call with the senator, leaders in her institution, and her fellow classmates. This provided an opportunity for participants to discuss critical issues such as health workforce development, the impact of the pandemic on underserved communities, and social determinants of health from the comfort of their homes — all while advancing key policy priorities for health professions education.

Beyond individual acts of innovation in advocacy, PA education has also mounted a remarkable collective response in the face of the pandemic. Since early March, the PA education community has sent more than 6,000 messages to Capitol Hill to advocate for both emerging and long-standing priorities for PA education, such as financial relief for students and programs, improved student loan terms, and investments in health workforce development programs. This collective action — all accomplished virtually by students, faculty, and their supporters across the country, —contributed to the inclusion of priorities in recently signed legislation, including:

  • Reauthorization of Title VII health workforce programs
  • Extension of the National Health Service Corps
  • Direct aid to institutions and students

As the federal response to COVID-19 continues to evolve, collective efforts of PA education advocates like this will remain critical to ensure that programs have the resources necessary to meet their mission.

While advocacy tactics have changed, the importance of public policy to PA education has not. Emerging challenges such as postponed clinical rotations, unanticipated student expenses, and transitioning to new distance learning techniques demand a vigorous public policy response to ensure that PA education has the resources necessary to support our students with the high-quality training necessary to respond to both COVID-19 and future public health crises.

Regardless of your preferred method of advocacy, PAEA’s Government Relations Team stands ready to assist you as we work together to support students, faculty, and programs during this difficult time. If you have any questions, please contact tsmith@PAEAonline.org.

Tyler Smith, MPH

Tyler is the director of government relations at PAEA. He is responsible for PAEA’s grassroots outreach initiatives and advancing the association’s legislative and regulatory priorities.