• Virtual Advocacy: Being There Without Actually Being There

    By Seeta Spence Banfield

    My Journey with Advocacy

    Before I started nursing school, I was in a program called City Year Orlando. This program was an AmeriCorps service organization that worked to keep students in school and on track to graduate from high school. We provided critical mentoring to students in the areas of attendance, behavior, and course work. However, as a government-funded program, AmeriCorps sometimes found itself on the legislative chopping block. Although volunteers made a meager stipend, we made a massive difference for the communities we operated in. Believing in this program drove us to educate our legislators and advocate for our organization. Usually, discussions with our representatives would lead to mutual understanding and protection of our organization.

    This experience as a volunteer has driven me to be passionate about advocacy. Every aspect of our daily lives revolves around the decisions that are made by our elected officials, especially as healthcare providers. In the last year, we watched how our elected officials responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and even election protection. Most of us realize that now, more than ever is the chance for us to become advocates for ourselves and our profession.

    Enter Virtual Advocacy. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many participating in virtual meetings with our family, friends, and colleagues. As you can imagine, many legislators are doing the same. This increases the amount of access we have to our representatives and the opportunity to create a real difference for our communities and our profession.

    Wondering how to get started?

    As students, our time always appears limited. It isn’t easy to imagine adding another item to our list. However, advocacy is not always about spending hours tracking down and meeting with your legislators. Please don’t get me wrong. Legislative meetings are an essential aspect, but there are plenty of other ways students can integrate advocacy into their lives.

    • Check out the AANA website’s advocacy and policy tab. There are plenty of resources that can help you get up to speed on nurse anesthesia and advocacy. There are plenty of issues regarding patient safety, access to quality healthcare services, the scope of practice, educational funding, reimbursement, and many other legislative and regulatory matters for you to learn about.
    • Find out who your Government Relations Committee members are and how you can support them. They may have some excellent insight into what specific issues your state/region is working on. They are a wealth of information.
    • Sign up for Virtual Mid-Year Assembly. As a virtual conference, you can attend this exclusive event from the comfort of your own home. Mid-Year Assembly’s focus is exclusive to constituent advocacy. There will be plenty of resources and knowledge available for you to indulge in.
    • Sign up for advocacy text alerts. You can sign up for text alerts to be sent straight to your phone when advocacy issues arise. These texts will lead you to a link that can help you craft a letter to your legislators about these issues and can be completed in a matter of minutes. Plus, they help you keep a finger on the pulse of nurse anesthesia—text AANA to 52886 to opt into CRNA Advocacy Alert notifications.

    Asking an Expert

    I had some questions myself, so I took some time to interview Ralph Kohl, Senior Director of Federal Government Affairs for the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists.

    How has the AANA shifted advocacy efforts to accommodate the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic?

    It’s been almost a year since we have had to shift our thinking from an in-person to a virtual format. Last year, we could accommodate for a virtual mid-year and look forward to doing so again this year. While we understand that it isn’t ideal to have virtual meetings, they have allowed us to expand our reach to those who may not have attended in the past. Additionally, we have begun to think more creatively about how to engage members beyond emails. We have recently created a new text advocacy system that notifies constituents when advocacy issues require support and how they can do so right from their phone.

    What value can students bring to the AANA advocacy efforts?

    The average age of legislative aids and hill staffers is 24-29 years old. This makes our students near peers to many of the Hill Staffers and legislative aids. Your ability to relate to the staff and explain your view of the issues is invaluable to the advocacy team. Additionally, your current perspective on schooling and education displays how rigorous training is for our profession and speaks volumes for your legislator.

    Why is it important for students to be involved in advocacy efforts?

    Student Registered Nurse Anesthetists (SRNAs) involved in advocacy efforts during school are more likely to stay involved after graduation. The experience you gain as a student is foundational and can help you become a more active member when you graduate. The advocacy efforts you assist in as a student directly affect your chosen career path. Think of it as an investment in your future.

    Advocacy is something that affects our daily lives, especially as future healthcare providers. Involvement in advocacy not only enriches your education but also helps you move the needle and support the career you have chosen for yourself. There are plenty of resources and experts there willing to help guide you along the way. I hope this piece inspires you to educate and advocate at whatever level feels comfortable to you.