Saving Our Profession: My Journey in Professional Advocacy

Have you ever felt called to do more for your profession but unsure where to start? That’s where I was, and I’m happy to share that being more involved is easier than you think. Here is my story:

I walk into a room filled with physical therapists for a meeting to discuss state legislative issues. I don’t like politics, but I sure am concerned about the future of my profession, and that’s why I’m there.

As I listen to the conversation, I cannot follow it. They are referring to procedures I don’t understand, using language I can barely interpret. I just showed up because I don’t want physical therapy to go away, but I feel lost and ignorant. Maybe others sensed my confusion, because after the meeting several people offered me support and explanations. Pleased to have another person interested, they explained that politics can be complicated, and they don’t expect anyone new to understand. Whew, I thought, because that is exactly how I felt.

I went home and searched YouTube videos about basic government, such as how bills become law. During my workouts over the next few weeks, I watched these videos and learned a lot. I kept attending and listening in meetings like the one I had experienced; no expectations, just listening. Then one day it shifted: I took an action. I called our lobbyist to invite state legislators to come tour my skilled nursing facility, and to my surprise they accepted.

When they arrived, they stayed for over an hour, telling stories of their own parents’ journeys in similar settings. We talked as people with loved ones, not as politicians and healthcare providers. I was energized, and at the same moment my stereotype of a politician was challenged. Maybe too, I thought, they had some ideas about physical therapy in a skilled nursing facility that were reshaped that day.

pa-graphic-fwFast forward two years, I recently returned from my second American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Federal Affairs Forum, an annual event put on by APTA to support Federal advocacy on physical therapy-related issues (like the Medicare Cap). I still feel like I barely understand how all this works – and now I know that’s ok! What matters is that I show up. The learning will continue, and we have a great group of clinicians here in my home state of Washington who understand the deeper intersections of policy and health and will help me along the way.

My motivation is that I love my profession. We offer so much to our patients, and I am concerned with the current political climate that our relevance may be threatened, especially as geriatric physical therapists.

Fighting for our piece of the medical pie takes many layers of effort. Having a voice at the important tables of discussion on key issues relative to physical therapy, now and in the future, takes persistence and relationships. Those relationships are needed at both a state and Federal level.

So, what can YOU do today? The best answer will depend on what drives you, but here are a few ideas:

  • Learn who your legislators are. Google “who are my state representatives < insert state>” to find your state-level website for a quick answer. Then, send them a message about something you care about, like I did.
  • Give money. Political Action Committees, or PACs, help raise the money to build relationships. Each profession has them, and they exist at the state and Federal level. Building relationships takes money and time; repealing the Medicare cap took 18 years. Bending the ear of politicians, telling them the stories from our patients on why these issues are so important takes money. That is the ugly truth. If we want our issues to be supported, we must lobby for them with both our time and our money.
  • Get involved with your professional association. Membership in APTA/AOTA/ASHA is a great place to start, but the truth is the volunteer energy is what drives the agenda. The good news is that there are many smart and kind people who will support you as you learn how your energy and passion can best be put to good use. That’s exactly what I experienced.
  • Get involved in advocacy with Infinity Rehab. Get this: while I was at the APTA Federal Affairs Forum, one of the organizers mentioned Infinity Rehab as a company who is involved in the process. How cool is that! We work for a great company with many leaders who are highly involved in state and national advocacy work. You don’t have to know exactly how you fit into that picture, you just have to start by telling someone you’re interested. Contact me or Derek Fenwick, our Director of Professional Development, to start getting connected to an opportunity to get involved.

Our future is what we make it. Let’s each do our part to move our amazing professions forward!

Kele Murdin, PT, GCS, GTC, CEEAA