Pharmacy Advocacy and Legislative Influence: How to Get Heard

Communication with legislators demands a comfort level that must be nurtured throughout a pharmacist's career.

Communication with legislators demands a comfort level that must be nurtured throughout a pharmacist's career.

During the month of March, I participated in several state and national legislative influence activities to help move our profession forward. Like my Pharmacy Times colleagues, I believe this is important work. For example, a member of our Board of Advisors, Daniel A. Hussar, PhD, writing in the February 2011 “The Pharmacist Activist” stated, “Pharmacists and our professional associations must have much more extensive and effective communication with our legislators.”

Since much of what pharmacists can and cannot do is determined by state or federal laws or regulations, it would be hard for any pharmacist to disagree with this statement. Yet what inevitably does happen, I believe, is that most pharmacists, while agreeing with this sentiment, feel that someone else will do it—so they don’t have to be informed or personally involved. That helps explain why so many pharmacists are not even members of any pharmacy organization at all.

Recognizing that student pharmacists become “professionalized” during their pharmacy school years, some of my North Carolina pharmacist colleagues and I have focused on promoting the process of legislative influence as part of their training. We created a congressional rotation that placed student pharmacists into the offices of North Carolina Representatives as aides for a 2-month rotation. We felt that the program was effective, but trying to coordinate all the logistics became insurmountable. When the House of Representatives leadership decided it wanted these experiences to be a semester in length we had to discontinue this program.

For the last several years, the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists instead has offered a 1-month legislative experience rotation coordinated out of our association. However, as valuable as this rotation is, its impact on student pharmacists is limited. To increase the value and get more people involved, we offered our 3 schools of pharmacy ASP Chapters a grant to support participation in RxImpact Day, a valuable program created by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) and held this year on March 9-10, 2011 in Washington, DC. This was the Third Annual RxImpact Day on Capitol Hill. It comes at a convenient time for student pharmacists, with some schools on spring break at that time. This year, North Carolina had more than 35 student pharmacists participating in educational programs and legislative visits. Such events should begin a process of making future pharmacists knowledgeable about how to influence the legislative process for the profession of pharmacy as well as gain a comfort level in becoming involved.

NACDS reported that the hard work of pharmacy advocates during RxImpact Day 2011 produced outstanding results:

  • Participants met with nearly half of all members of Congress, resulting in more than 255 scheduled meetings with 186 Representatives and 59 Senators.
  • 70% of these meetings were with members of Congress serving on health care committees.
  • Meetings were conducted with 112 Democrats, 142 Republicans, and 1 Independent.
  • Pharmacy advocates met with 70 of the 112 newly elected members of Congress.

Like many state pharmacy organizations, the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists also conducted its Pharmacy Day in the Legislature. Again, student pharmacists were involved in various events. They helped staff our health fair ,where we were able to demonstrate how pharmacists are trained to handle an expanded role. They visited the offices of their representatives and senators as well as interacted with them at the reception we held to honor the legislators.

Although getting student pharmacists more politically involved will take more time and effort beyond these very valuable state and national programs, I believe it is a strategy that will have some long-term benefits. Of course, this strategy would be even more successful if pharmacy faculty members would also participate, so that they model what we want student pharmacists to do “in action”—and reinforce their strategies with comments in classroom.

Sure, there is much more that can be done. But it is my personal sense that pharmacy organizations now see the value of (1) collaborating on pharmacy’s legislative priorities; (2) making advocacy a much higher priority; and (3) involving student pharmacists as part of the process. Hopefully, these efforts will strengthen pharmacy’s influence in the legislative process. If you are one of those too many pharmacists who are not supporting a pharmacy organization by your membership, I encourage you to join now. Our organizations need your financial support as well as your voice— so that pharmacists are heard loud and clear across the country and all the way to Washington, DC. PT

Mr. Eckel is a professor at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He serves as executive director of the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists.