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Three Perspectives on ASHP Student Advocate Training and Legislative Day 2015 #SSHPTakesDC

By Danielle Beltz posted 08-23-2015 13:14


Contributed by: Northeast Ohio Medical University SSHP P4 members Danielle Beltz, Amy Saculla, Sasha Walton

Three Student Perspectives on ASHP Student Advocate Training and Legislative Day

In January, Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) SSHP with Dr. Jackie Boyle invited Joseph Hill, Director, Federal Affairs and Nicholas Gentile, Director, State Grassroots Advocacy and Political Action to provide a luncheon webinar at NEOMED.  Over 50 faculty and students attended the event.  Afterward, several students came forward expressing interest in getting more involved in advocacy for the pharmacy profession.  In February, NEOMED SSHP sent three student advocates to the ASHP legislative training in Washington DC.  Danielle Beltz, Amy Saculla and Sasha Walton traveled from Ohio to DC to learn more about advocacy.  Their perspectives on the event follow:

Danielle’s Perspective:

While I have traveled to Columbus to speak with legislators twice on state pharmacy issues, I was not sure what to expect on the national level.

Our NEOMED SSHP contingent went to DC with an open mind, looking for traction on provider status through meeting with lawmakers and also for ideas of what we could bring home to promote grassroots efforts in Ohio.

The training session started with examples of what students had done other schools to promote advocacy. As SSHP President, this was a trove of good ideas that we soon put to good use. The presenters inspired us to put together a student-led advocacy training session at NEOMED during our PPMI week in March, and to create an advocacy wall to bring awareness to the need for provider status legislation.

Likewise, discussion of how important the national coalition of employers and professional groups or Patient Access to Pharmacists’ Care Coalition (PAPCC) working together had become, sparked our desire to form a coalition of student groups to support the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act. At NEOMED, the student coalition includes student groups SSHP, APhA-ASP, Kappa Psi, Rho Chi, National Community Pharmacists Association and Phi Lambda Sigma so far.

After the student leaders shared their advocacy activities, the ASHP legislative team walked us through the process of meeting with lawmakers. One of the most influential parts of the talk for me was when Daniel Nam, consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton and former ASHP fellow spoke. He put it quite plainly that we all must get past our reluctance to make ourselves uncomfortable if we want to accomplish anything worthwhile. Truly, it is uncomfortable to walk into a legislator's office for the first time. However, each time we put ourselves out there we lost a bit of that discomfort, and it became less intimidating. By our fourth meeting, with Senator Sherrod Brown’s staff, we were all fairly comfortable. Given the significance of this legislation for our patients and for the scope of our careers, it is worth getting past some initial discomfort to support it.

In terms of the lawmakers and staff, as it turns out there was nothing to fear. Of course those who go into politics generally are people-oriented. It was a pleasure meeting the legislative aides and lawmakers, who were gregarious and polite. It did not bother me when a legislative aid challenged whether our position was the right solution to the problem of underserved care, and I took this as an opportunity to come home, gather some research and follow up with that legislator's office with relevant studies. There is no shortage of good data showing that pharmacists care improves patient outcomes and lowers cost. I felt completely prepared by the ASHP training and I was relieved that I was required to be neither clever nor lawyerly. Instead, I could simply speak to what I know about pharmacy, and offer to follow up and serve as a resource if more information was needed.

On a more personal note, it was hard not to be awed by the sense of history and significance of DC. From passing through the offices of well-known legislators to walking through the United States Capitol and Library of Congress - the sense of importance of the democratic process was profound, even when the security guard at the Library of Congress nearly confiscated my pocket DiPiro Pharmacotherapy text! My takeaway from the program is that we should not wait for others to make our careers more meaningful or let us fully serve our patients. Pharmacy students definitely need to be present and accounted for on issues that affect pharmacy, and the time is now to get involved.

Amy’s Perspective:

Making the decision to take part in the ASHP Student Advocate Training and Legislative Day in Washington, DC was easy, but I knew I would be forced out of my comfort zone. I knew, above all, it would be a strong learning experience and very exciting. The exciting aspect of it, was knowing that I had the potential to be talking to the exact people, or their aides, of whom make the final difference in society.

It was an enlightening experience to talk to the different parties, and see the difference in what they felt was important, which was seen through their questions. The Republicans were asking what the cost will be and the Democrats were saying that pharmacists will be utilized to their full capacity with this bill being passed. This was comical, in a sense, but also realistic.

The atmosphere of Capitol Hill radiates a patriotic vibe, but also a vibe where business is done. People walking around in suits and getting out of expensive vehicles is a bit intimidating. SSHP prepared us well to give us the confidence to fit in with that setting. We had a purpose there; we were the pharmacy experts. Our purpose, in one case, was just to bring light on the bill. Legislatures have so much to think about, all aspects of the public to put forth their attention towards. So hearing that Congressman Tim Ryan supported the bill, the day after we spoke with his aide, was extremely rewarding. Rewarding for the pharmacy field, that is. My peers and myself were used as vectors for our field, to compile the voices of all those who support the cause. We did what we intend to continue to do, and that is advocate for what we need to further our careers, keeping the patients the center of our focus. Because sometimes, all it takes is bringing the issue to the surface and making people aware. Your voice is a very powerful tool.

Sasha's Perspective

I've always loved Washington D.C., something about being immersed in the history of our nation excites me. I am the farthest from a political person. However, I figured if I want to be able to better help my patients, provider status is important. But I'm just a student, I didn't think I could advocate. I wanted to learn from people who do this on a daily basis and where better than in D.C.? There will always be something I want and need to know how to communicate to those who can help me achieve it.

ASHP did a wonderful job at teaching us how to communicate with the aides or the representatives. Knowing about the bills is important but I realized most wanted to know why this issue is important to me. I loved being able to tell my story and relay how getting provider status will help me to better take care of my patients. The other key point I realized was the need to stay on top of the issue. There are a lot of bills introduced each year. I'm sure it is difficult for our representatives to stay on top of all of them. Knowing that Representative Tim Ryan had cosponsored the bill last year, we were just there to inform them it was reintroduced and ask for support again this time. It was so amazing to know he signed on to cosponsor again that very day.

Overall, we attended four meetings, each very different than the last. One aide told us no, her words were, "this is a solution, but I don't think this is the solution." When meeting with one senator, he seemed he was interested in us and our cause but really wanted the financial information behind the bill before making any decisions. Also, we had the privilege of meeting with Senator Sherrod Brown's aide, he was already a cosponsor, and we were just there to thank him. That meeting with his aide was one of our longer ones. He wanted to know more about us and more about why we're wanting provider status, and what we will do with it.

Having been trained by ASHP and the opportunity to advocate after the training I was able to bring back my experiences to further educate my peers on how easy and important it is to advocate. I also feel like I've become a master of the DC Metro and getting around in the city.


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