Merriam-Webster defines Advocate as, “to support or argue for (a cause or policy)”. Physician Assistants are natural advocates, this is required as part of training as outlined by CanMeds-PA . We use our expertise and knowledge to positively influence the health of Canadian patients. This includes advocating for patient safety, adapting to the practice, management and needs of a patient, advocating for a patient’s individual rights, consider the determinants of health (psychological, biological, social, cultural and economic), health promotion and disease prevention.
In addition to advocating for the health of our patients, we also advocate for the PA profession. Often, almost every PA that has undergone training has had to do some kind of advocacy for the Physician Assistant Profession. Explaining to patients, colleagues, supervising physicians how PAs are utilized in the Canadian health care system. This includes explaining the PA role and scope of practice, impact on wait times and patient care, reimbursement for PA work, regulation, and funding.
Goals of PA Advocacy:
- Advocating for policies that help support a healthier patient population – which may include policies that support integration of PAs to increase access to quality and timely health care.
- Promote awareness of PA Profession
- Promote integration of PAs into the Canadian Health Care System
1. Answer Questions about the PA Profession
- Develop your “What is a PA? Elevator Pitch”: This is a rapid fire answer you can provide when someone asks, “What exactly is a PA?”. This question will come up throughout your PA Career, from PA school, to graduation to PA practice.
- Answer Questions about PAs: You will be answering questions about PAs with friends, family, colleagues, prospective students, sometimes even other PA students as they are building their understanding of the PA role and scope of practice.
- Mention the CAPA website and other Resources: The Canadian Association of Physician Assistant website has resources for PAs and those wishing to learn about the PA profession across Canada
- Educate fellow health care professionals at team meetings or rounds about PAs – Use this opportunity to introduce the PA role to your colleagues about What is a PA, your scope of practice, how other health care professionals can interact with you and where PAs fall in the flow of care. This can be an informal Q&A, or you can prepare a powerpoint presentation. My mentor has presented a “What is a PA” presentation to nurses in the ER, to understand their scope, what a PA can and can’t do, and when a nurse can come to the PA.
- Host a PA Info booth at different education centres – Such as how the 3 PA Education Programs have hosted Information booths at different hospitals and at their individual universities!
2. Answer Prospective Student Questions
Answering questions from individual interested in becoming a PA is a simple and easy way to get involved in Advocacy. First, you are educating prospective students about the profession, and providing them with a first hand perspective of the difference you make in health care. These prospective students may end up becoming future PAs, they also may opt to pursue other careers in health care or other. These future health care providers will remember their experience with you when they encounter PAs in their future career.
- Answer Prospective student inquiries that you receive via email, LinkedIn, Facebook, or other venues that students reach you.
- Host a “What is a PA?” session at a high school, university career fair, community organization, pre-med student club session, or at a career fair
- Volunteer to allow Prospective PA students to shadow – If you have a half day, and have ok’ed the shadowing through the staff – you can have a PA student shadow. If you are a PA in Ontario interested in allowing PAs to shadow you, contact Cathy at email@example.com.
- Join the Canadian Pre-PA Student Network on Facebook and help us answer questions from prospective PA students!
3. Talk to your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP)
You can locate your local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) through the Ontario Legislative Assembly website. You can interact with your MPP in the following ways:
- Write a letter to your local MPP (and be sure to send a copy to CAPA / your Regional Chapter President). Tell your PA story and discuss what needs to change in order for PAs to be better integrated into the community (e.g. funding, regulation). CAPA has a list of resources (members only) that you can send along to your MPP, including key Articles and PA Publications, PA Toolkit, and the PA Fact sheet. You can also get your supervising physician to write a letter as well.
- Arrange for a meeting/presentation with your local MPP. Be sure to contact your regional chapter president (email firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain the email for your region) if you require any assistance in terms of what to speak about. You can make use of CAPA’s What is a PA? Powerpoint Presentation. This is a great opportunity to speak with your MPP about your PA story, the need for PAs in the area, and what steps can be taken next. You can also choose to attend the meeting with your supervising physician as well.
- Attend the “PA Awareness Reception”, also known as “PA Lobby Day “. This is hosted recently once a year in in various regions including Victoria, BC and Queen’s Park, Toronto where PAs meet with the Minister of Health, MPPs/MLAs and heads of the opposition parties and health critics. Here PA’s discuss the value of PAs.
5. Get featured in the Media
PA News coverage allows for PAs to featured in public forums that are read by Canadians across different walks of life. Whether this is being featured on CBC, CTV or being featured in local newspapers.
I spent a few days organizing and searching for PA Alumni in the News for the McMaster PA Student Resource Website. These usually take place around PA Day in Canada (November 27) and we build quite a bit of momentum for PA support in the media. However, it would be great to have more PA coverage throughout the year.
- Contribute to or be featured in a blog / online magazine
- Get featured in a local newspaper article
- Do a radio interview
- Interview for a Podcast
6. PA Research
PA Research does not have to just be publication of a research paper in a major academic journal. In fact participation of any kind of scholarship, an academic activity to advance knowledge, skills or experience.
As per Charles DiMaggio, PhdD, MPH, PA-C from Columbia University, when answering the question “Why do Research?”
- to save lives, or at least improve patient care or prevent illness
- to advance science, and perhaps your career
- because you love it.
Any PA Participation in scholarship projects, whether related to the may include:
- Independent study of a subject (e.g. Case study of a particularly interesting clinical presentation of a disease)
- Conducting a Literature Review or Systematic Review of studies on PA utilization, integration or education
- Conducting a case-control or cohort study, Randomized Controlled Trial, or trial without randomization
- Performing a descriptive or qualitative study.
- Capstone/senior seminar (Read Manitoba PA Grad Eden’s reflection of the CAPSTONE Project).
- Honours Courses
- Publishing a research paper in an academic journal
- Submitting a research poster (such as through CPAEA’s Poster Sessions)
I’ve put together a post past CPAEA Poster Sessions where you can see the subjects and topics that were covered.
A few examples of some topics around PA research include:
- PAs in Health Promotion
- PA Education
- Patient Perception of PA Care
- PA Integration
- PA Policy Papers
- PA Regulation
- PA Funding
- PA-led interventions or screening programs (e.g. PA-led discharge program, skin cancer screening, smoking cessation, etc.)
PA participation and PA-led research projects on topics outside of PA utilization, including disease prevention and health promotion, biomedical research, public health is important as well. Read more about the Importance of PA Research.
The study linked to on the left is a research paper that was published, the poster on the right demonstrates scholarship presented at the Poster Presentation at the CAPA Annual Conference Poster Sessions.
7. Join A Board or Committee
Andrea Lombardi made a reference to this during her Networking and Employment Tips Session for New PA Grads at previous CAPA Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She recommended to join a Board of Directors for a charitable organization or health organization. You can use a resource like boardmatch.org to help you find a position on different boards/committees.
The benefits of joining a board or committee include:
- Learn aspects of administration, policy making, decision making, oversight leadership and management
- You are exposed to different professions inside and outside health care.
- Volunteering and helping out on these committees provides opportunities to improve your communication skills and broadens your network
- You can help build awareness about the PA profession, and give the “PA perspective” on different health care issues (if applicable)
Examples of boards you can join include:
- The “social” committee responsible for organizing social events for your team, organization department, or hospital
- Quality Improvement Committee
- Charities and other Non-Profit Organizations
- Hospital Board of Directors (Read HealthyDebate’s primer on Hospital Board of Directors)
- Health Associations (e.g. Ontario Association of CCAC, Ontario Public Health Association, Canadian Mental Health Associations, Public Health Ontario, Canadian Public Health Association, Association of Family Health Teams in Ontario, etc.etc.).
8. Volunteer your Skills with CAPA
CAPA’s efforts, subcommittees and working groups are compromised of volunteers who are passionate about moving the PA profession forward. Deniece O’Leary, the current Ontario Chapter President encourages PAs to be actively involved in the changes they want to see in the profession. She has noted that PAs are tremendously talented, and that we are underutilizing the skillset (e.g. marketing, business, management, resourcefulness) that Canadian PAs possess to move the profession forward.
This may include:
- Offering to lead a small PA working group on a research project or PA advocacy initiative (e.g. research degrees & experience, communication, marketing, management, business or entrepreneurial experience, leadership)
- Using expertise in social media and digital marketing to help CAPA promote the Canadian PA Profession
- Speaking at conferences about PA utilization
- Mentoring PAs who are looking for guidance on research and getting published
- Assist CAPA with strategies on how to better market the PA profession or
- Partner on projects for data collection on initiatives to help support PA policy.
- Be added to the volunteer list of PAs willing to answer questions from prospective students (when CAPA gets inquiries) or offer job shadowing opportunities to prospective PA students
From an interview with Deniece, she explained, ” If we could harvest a lot of those untapped skillsets that Canadian PAs possess – the research experience, communication skills, marketing, management, and leadership – and combine it with the PA’s desire to improve their career and job stability, this would empower the PA to effectively change and do more within their clinic or hospital setting, and help out their fellow peers.”
If you’re interested in volunteering contact email@example.com, or look out for posts in the CAPA/ACAM Facebook Group, or Ontario PA and PA Students Facebook Group when there is a request for volunteers on specific projects.
9. Join and Post on Social Media
Using mediums like Twitter and Facebook we’ve been able to connect with other Physician Assistants in Canada, the United States, and internationally (i.e. UK, Australia, etc.). PAs have also been able to promote the PA profession through these mediums – sharing PA news stories, tidbits and photos from clinical practice or PA education, dispelling myths about PA practice and examples of PA integration across the country. Here we have a list of Canadian PAs on Twitter.
To read more, check out the four part series on Why PAs should Get on Twitter: