As a PT student, it used to be hard for me to differentiate between politics and policy. Whenever I heard or read the word “advocacy” in an email, post, or newsletter I always thought “that’s not really for me.”
What do I know about advocacy anyway? I’m not an advocate.
Or so I thought.
Throughout my time inside and outside of the classroom I quickly learned that being an advocate is not a choice. We are already advocates by choosing a healing profession with the best interest of our patients in our hearts and minds. But it’s not enough to keep this passion for patient care within the walls of a clinic or classroom. It would be wrong to assume that each person we meet knows what physical therapy is and what we have to offer after didactic training and intense clinical training. It would be wrong to assume that all providers have a thorough and in-depth understanding of our role as health providers within a team model. It would be wrong to assume that the progress we have made as a profession will continue to be there without fighting for it. To me, advocacy is showing up for our patients and colleagues -serving as a voice for and advancing the profession of physical therapy for the greatest good to the greatest number.
But how do I show up for something I know next-to-nothing about?
I used to struggle with this as a student. Feeling like I don’t belong just because I haven’t been before. If anything, I hope that by reading this you’ll realize that it’s not just you. All of us feel out of place sometimes. But you don’t have to!
Let me tell you why.
So, there’s this conference that happens once every year before APTA NEXT. It’s called the APTA House of Delegates. You may be wondering, what even is the House and what’s a Delegate? The House is the governing body within the APTA comprised of its Delegates. Each state is allowed a certain number of Delegates, based on population size, who will serve as the voice for their respective state via vote and speaking in favor or against a “motion”. Each Chapter (or state) is comprised of their Delegates and one Chief Delegate. Collectively, all Delegates from all states make up the “House.” This is where the decision-making magic happens within the APTA. And, let me tell you, this room is filled with some of the most passionate people you will ever meet!
Motion: “An act intended to amend APTA bylaws, direct a course of action, articulate an association attitude on the physical therapy needs of the public or the needs of members, or describe a goal the association wishes to achieve.” Basically, Delegates craft these motions, which are then reviewed by the Reference Committee, who then makes edits and suggestions prior to the motion being considered and voted on in the official House of Delegates during session. That was a mouthful (eyeful?). And if you’re still following along, hang in there! The good stuff is coming, I promise.
HOD Usher: This Spring I was selected at random after applying on the APTA website to become a HOD Usher. Truthfully, I had no idea what I had just put my name down for, other than wanting more exposure after the Duke DPT HOD “House of Dukelegates.” My experience within the Mock HOD was so memorable, I knew I wanted to see more and do more. I wanted to do anything I could to be within the walls of the real deal – THE House of Delegates.
As an Usher, I was tasked with making sure electronic voting devices were in working order (no experience required) and serving as a liaison between Delegates of different states (I literally ran to get messages from one side of the room to the other before votes were cast).
Most importantly, however, I made connections. Connections with students from all across the country, connections with NC delegates, and connections with Delegates from states I’ve never even step foot in. Simply because I said “yes” to putting my name down on an application, fully expecting not to get picked.
APTA National Office Usher: Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in an interview, learning about everyone’s “why”? What if I told you that these interviews were for APTA National Office? As in THE Sharon Dunn? Now this may seem intimidating at a first glance, but this experience taught me that sometimes the people who have the biggest titles are the most down-to-earth. They don’t care about the title, truthfully, but instead the impact they can have on the lives of others through this platform. I thought I would feel out of place as “just a student” wearing my white button-up and khaki slacks. However, as I continue to realize each and every day, we will never be “just students.” In fact, I was greeted with genuine hellos and warm smiles by each candidate while serving as a Door Monitor for the Southern region. I was able to listen to the aspirations and goals of each member running for office. Where their passions lie, what they fight for, and who they represent. Most importantly, I was able to see first-hand the unwavering passion of the future of our profession.
What I Learned: You don’t have to be on the same side of the fence as others to be an inspiring PTA/PT. Quite arguably the best part of this experience was realizing the differing viewpoints within our profession, yet the same unified purpose with the best interest of our patients at the center.
Further, you can make a difference as a student. The “just a student” mentality does not exist within the walls of HOD. You are important, and you matter here. I encourage anyone reading this post to say “yes” and put their name down next year! You never know what could happen when you take that leap of faith and go outside of your comfort zone. Because I took that leap, I was able to connect with a Delegate who approached me simply because I was an Usher. That same person happened to be faculty at an Orthopedic Residency program I’m considering applying to next year. We bonded over advocacy of all things and that led to an invite to come shadow this past summer. I like to think that although I showed Delegates to their seats as an Usher, they too showed me to mine. Because of this experience, I know I belong.
My Best Advice: Show up when you feel the least qualified, be present, and take every advantage to connect with other incredible students, like yourself. Because we are the future of our profession. And we matter.