Hello everyone, from sunny Florida, at the GU Ruskin campus! I am excited to have the opportunity to share my experiences as an occupational therapy graduate student here at Gannon University. Although I am only in my first year of my program, I have taken advantage of the many opportunities that are offered by our amazing university.
This past September, I had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. for the American Occupational Therapy Association’s annual event- Hill Day. In our profession, advocacy, health promotion, and prevention are important components in which are used in order to better serve our clients. Hill Day is an important event that takes place once a year at Capitol Hill, in order to talk to legislators about important topics (especially during this election season!). Throughout the course of my education and personal experiences, I have come to understand the importance of using our voices to help others. I found Hill Day to allow me to do so and hopefully the experience I am going to now share, will encourage you to make that first move you have been waiting to make.
I had only been to D.C. once when I was a young child, so the excitement of having an entire day to check out an unfamiliar city was refreshing. I was able to do some sight-seeing and even walked from my hotel all the way to the White House to snap a few photos! When I arrived to Union Station in D.C. the next morning for the big day, I was greeted by many occupational therapists, certified hand therapists, occupational therapy assistants, and other students such as myself. This year, Hill Day not only included occupational therapists, but it marked an important collaboration with the American Society of Hand Therapists. The morning consisted of networking and a meeting that highlighted what the day ahead of us would entail. For Hill Day, there are many who work all year long to set up meetings with members of congress, as well as do research on the topics that are going to be discussed during the Capitol Hill meetings throughout the span of the day. There was a record attendance this year, with over 650 attendees, representing 38 states! During the initial meeting, there were various guest speakers including the current president for the American Occupational Therapy Association (Amy Lamb), the current president for the American Society of Hand Therapists (Barbara Winthrop), and many others who are educated on the legislature to be discussed.
During the meeting, we went into detail about important laws that have not been garnering the attention by congress needed to implement change in our health profession. Some examples of legislature discussed include The Lymphedema Treatment Act, Enhancing the Stature and Visibility of Medical Research at the NIH Act, Medicare Home Health Flexibility Act, and the Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act. Each of these were explained in-depth, which allowed for us all to be knowledgeable when we went to our congressional meetings.
After the session, I took an Uber over to Capitol Hill. When I was in the car, the driver asked me where I was going and naturally, like someone who hasn’t really been to D.C., I point to the actual Capitol building. He laughed and told me, “I will take you to the right place, the meetings go on in separate buildings, I can tell it is your first time here!”. I was so embarrassed, but, glad I was getting dropped off at the right place and on-time for my meeting. I arrived early to the Cannon building for my meeting with a legislative analyst from my district. 11am was approaching quickly and I noticed that the others were either late or lost. I became extremely nervous as I realized that I was the only one attending this meeting! I took a deep breath and proceeded with confidence. I kept telling myself, “Be brave, you know this stuff!”. Upon sitting down with the legislative analyst, I found the conversation to flow naturally. Thank goodness I did my research before this. We had a great conversation and I am positive that I was able to make an impact by explaining the importance of occupational therapy, my future career.
I had another meeting at 12pm and when I got outside, the rain was coming down harder than I have ever seen! I am a Florida native, but even I wasn’t prepared for this weather. I hid my information packets and map under my black jacket and started running down the street to another building on the other side of Capitol Hill. Halfway there, I was completely drenched and a kind old man with an umbrella offered to walk with me the remainder of the way. Those kind of spontaneous conversation are what makes situations like those so much better. Once I got to the other building, I was greeted by a large group of people who were going to be at the next two meetings with me. It was great to have others there with me, so that I could see what others were saying. The meetings went extremely well, which is important considering both were with representatives from the office of Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Marco Rubio. It was nice to have a one-on-one conversation for the first meeting, but the group meetings taught me that I have a long way to go in my education and career.
After the meetings were over, I exchanged contact information with everyone I spoke with and some of my new occupational therapy connections. The experience was something new to me and being a student at Gannon constantly challenges me to go out of my comfort zone in order to make an impact and to grow as a professional. I am already planning my next Hill Day for other topics that are important to me.
Advocacy is not something that you have to go all the way to Washington, D.C. to do, it can be done at school, in your home, and even on social media. Find what you are passionate about and don’t be afraid to raise your voice. Every voice matters if you want it to! By the way, if you ever end up in D.C., check out Potbelly Sandwiches- they have the best buffalo mac and cheese ever! Thank you to my wonderful mentors and faculty who have supported me on this journey and encouraged me to make a difference.
Talk soon, Sue Ram