PA students participate in civic engagement through Lobby Day

College of Health and Behavioral Studies
PA Lobby Day

“Advocacy is super important when it comes to what the students want to do,” Physician Assistant (PA) Studies Program Director Jerry Weniger said. “If we as practitioners want to protect our profession, then we have to advocate for ourselves in this way.” 

In January, students in JMU’s PA program went to Richmond to participate in Lobby Day, a day when students and other practicing PAs meet with legislators during the General Assembly to lobby for bills that affect medicine in Virginia. This day is organized through a partnership between the Virginia Academy of PAs and the Medical Society of Virginia. 

When the students arrived in Richmond, they were given handouts explaining the eight bills that were being lobbied for that day. They were then split into groups based on their interest in a particular bill. Some of the bills for the day included House Bill 1764 which discussed the elimination of practice ratios for PAs and House Bill 1835 which examined increasing the felony classes for assaulting healthcare workers in both in- and outpatient centers.

Weniger said experiences like Lobby Day are a great way for students to advocate for themselves as health care practitioners. He said he hopes the students are able to not only advocate for issues that they care about but also gain a sense for the importance of civic engagement that will hopefully carry over into their careers as PAs.  

“There are many groups there at one time lobbying for different issues,” Weniger said. So [the politicians] aren’t going to know what can make things better for patients and practitioners in Virginia unless we propose bills and advocate for ourselves.” 

Along with lobbying for issues related to medicine in Virginia, Weniger said Lobby Day is also an opportunity for students to see how the government works when it comes to healthcare related laws.

“[Lobby Day] is a real-world way for students to see how the government works,” Weniger said. “Some of them have no idea how this stuff happens and it was definitely eye-opening for them in the sense that they got to see how laws are created.”  

PA Lobby Day

Three students who attended Lobby Day are first year PA students Sophia Levine, Lilly Colantonio and Aaron Horton.  

Colantonio was part of the group that lobbied for House Bill 1835 which ensures the protection of all health care practitioners in Virginia. She said this bill has personal significance to her as one of her dad’s patients came to her house when she was a child, threatening to hurt her family. 

“Every single health care provider should feel safe no matter what setting they’re in,” Colantonio said. “As someone who’s had an experience with a patient getting violent as someone’s daughter in healthcare, I think that protections are something that should be equal across the board.” 

Horton also has personal connections to Bill 1835 since he has worked as a paramedic for more than 10 years. He said he’s had patients become angry and violent with him but that there’s currently only protections for emergency room doctors and inpatient centers when situations like that happen.  

Both Horton and Colantonio believe that taking advantage of opportunities like Lobby Day are important for current and future practitioners because it’s important for them to be aware of what is happening in the world around them. While she has a personal connection to the bill she lobbied for, Colantonio said all current and future physicians should advocate for issues that are important to them.  

“It’s good to put your own opinions and experiences out there,” Colantonio said. “After sharing my story, the senators had never heard of anything like that happening before which I think made them take our bill more seriously.” 

Like Colantonio, Levine said it’s important to make your voice heard. While she was initially anxious about speaking with lawmakers, she’s happy she did it because by doing so she has the chance to make real change in regard to issues that are significant to her. 

“This was my first time ever doing something like this so I was very nervous, but after doing it once, I know I’d be more comfortable with it in the future,” Levine said. “It was really cool to be able to advocate for something that I care about and that could potentially help someone else.”  

For most of the students involved in Lobby Day, they had little to no idea how bills worked. While Levine said she learned a lot about the process of how lobbying works, she thinks that the politicians also learned from her and the other PAs there.  

“Civic engagement experiences like this are crucial because they help to bridge that knowledge gap,” Levine said. “We were able to learn from the politicians and they were able to learn directly from us about things that affect us. I think bridging that gap is huge.”  

When it comes to lobbying for bills, Levine and Horton agree that students have to just go out and do it. Horton said the politicians in Richmond don’t know about the issues facing healthcare providers so it’s PAs jobs to go out and advocate for themselves.  

While Lobby Day may seem like a daunting task, Horton said anyone wanting to be involved in it has to treat the politicians they talk to like normal people. He said they’re not celebrities, they’re there to do their job.  

“Politicians are just workers trying to do their job,” Horton said. “But they need to be held accountable so we as PAs need to make sure that they’ve heard every side of the issues that we’re presenting.”

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Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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