The goal of the health care profession is to strive to deliver the highest quality of patient care. Our Pacific Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Students had this in mind when they participated in the Pacific Physical Therapy Student Legislative Day at the State Capitol in January.

In 2008, Pacific Physical Therapy Student Legislative Day was organized in an effort to offer the students true experiential learning of advocacy and diplomacy in government affairs. This opportunity was a result of collaboration between Dr. Daryl Stuart and Dr. James Syms, current president of the California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA), who saw that the students were unable to attend the state-wide CPTA Legislative Day due to academic calendar conflicts.

The 37 second-year student physical therapists took action at the State Capitol. They met with nearly 30 legislators, listening to a lecture by Dr. Syms on legislation, politics, and how a law becomes a law, witnessing new Attorney General Gavin Newsom being sworn into office, and pushing for consumer direct access. The students were separated into groups of five to six students, guided by a physical therapist mentor, as they visited the Capitol for an all day event.

It was obvious the passion these students had for their profession and the need for ease of access to physical therapy services. “Much conversation concerned the push for consumer direct access and how the University of the Pacific is extensively preparing its physical therapy students to be qualified professionals in rendering services independent of physician referral,” said Stephen Chan ’11.

Direct access to physical therapy is giving patients an opportunity to be evaluated and treated by a physical therapist without a physician referral. With direct access, physical therapists will be able to treat the patient beyond preventive care. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, 46 states and the District of Columbia have removed the provision requiring a physician referral.

DPT students receive a warm welcome at the Capitol.

While the students were prepared to voice their concerns about consumer direct access, they were surprised how little some legislators knew about the practice of physical therapy and the level of education required for licensure. “In some cases we found ourselves educating them about what physical therapists do: we are movement experts,” added Michelle Stephenson ’11. She continues to explain her knowledge of medical screenings and how she has learned to identify and work with a patient diagnosis within the scope of physical therapy practice.

No matter the issue at hand, the students fully enjoyed their day at the State Capitol for the Pacific Physical Therapy Student Legislative Day. “University of the Pacific Physical Therapy Student Legislative Day is a wonderful opportunity for our DPT students to experience advocacy in action. Our students develop their professional persona, communication skills and gain a deeper understanding of health policy and access. Because our Pacific studentsare eager to learn, responsive and caring, by the end of the day our students become inspiring educators to state legislators, and the health care community,” commented Dr. Katie Graves ’03, PT, DPT, OCS.

The CPTA Northeast District has continued to sponsor the Pacific’s Physical Therapy Student Legislative Day by funding over $500 each year.

By Dua Her '09
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