Hitting All The Right Notes: The Art of Advocacy

By Christopher Pitts posted 11-11-2015 17:04


As a pharmacy student and future member of one of the most underutilized health professions, professional advocacy is a huge deal. It is important to understand the process of implementing policies and legislation that affect healthcare. Fortunately in February I was able to attend the first annual ASHP Student Advocate and Legislative Day (#SSHPTakesDC). I knew this would be a crucial step in demystifying the advocacy process, but what I didn’t realize was that advocating to Congress would be so musical.

My life revolves around playing music. When I am not deeply involved in practicing/studying/ learning about the pharmacy world, I am playing/listening/studying in the music world. I play piano and particularly enjoy the freedom of jazz. Just as with pharmacy a lot of people do not fully understand what jazz is, so let me break it down.

Jazz is a way of playing music in which musicians start with a basic song structure and improvise (make it up) over this structure, like liquid architecture. Each musician is armed with knowledge of the chords, the melody, and music theory. From this common ground musicians deliver a fluid, unique, and emotional message to the listener. The goal is to incite a change in the listener’s emotions. It takes a shared passion, collaboration, and vision from the performers to reach this goal.

Similarly during Student Legislative Day I was put with a small group of Georgia voters to meet with members of Congress. You can think of this as our quartet. We were all versed in the world of pharmacy, each bringing our own unique perspectives to the table. Together we worked to deliver our core message, to allow pharmacists to better serve the medically underserved population through provider status.

Starting from our baseline training we planned our “performance.” From there we took off, giving our own unique perspectives and playing off each other’s ideas and motifs. As with musical improvisation it is important to listen and remain fluid to ensure the message is cohesive and comprehended. There is no better feeling than seeing a positive change in the audience after a great performance. It’s amazing to instantly see the impact you can make.

Following our visits, three of the four Georgia representatives in Congress are co-sponsors, in part because we were able to make that connection. Continuing with this musical metaphor, if you think of the students as a small rhythm section and add on ASHP we would have a multi Grammy winning Big Band. Since August, ASHP members have been the deciding factor for 40 of the 57 new cosponsors of the legislation in the House of Representatives.  This level of achievement is the result of a concerted effort by everyone involved with ASHP.

In music and in advocacy you don’t get better unless you practice. It is important that pharmacists, no matter what stage in their career continue to hone their skills. Student pharmacists now have a unique opportunity to train with the masters at ASHP Student Advocate and Legislative Day. I challenge you to undertake the “Art of Advocacy.” 

Top Left: Christopher Pitts Downtown Atlanta, Top Right: Christopher Pitts Rep.Buddy Carter at the Capitol Hill Health Fair. Bottom(From Left): Christopher Pitts, Dustin Orvin, Sarah Clements, William Dent(Legislative Aide for Senator Isakson), and Melissa Bien-Aime at Senator Isakson's Office

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