Education Resource Email #3: AAHPM’s Capitol Hill Days

In the interest of archiving the Education SIG’s “Education Resource Email” collection and making it more widely available, we have decided to post past emails. The email below was originally sent to the Education SIG listserve on November 21, 2012.
Capitol Hill Days and advocating for education funding

Dear Education SIG colleagues,

In the midst of your travel and/or preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope you can find time to read the following resource describing my experience at AAHPM’s Capitol Hill Days. I hope that it will offer some additional perspective on how both our SIG and the individuals therein might advocate for eduation funding. Most importantly, there is action that you can take today to help move this effort forward, so keep reading (or at least flag for follow-up when you return to work)!

I attended AAHPM’s Capitol Hill Days on behalf of our Education SIG this past July 16-18. I thought it might be useful to provide you with some information about what I learned during that experience and what it was like as a way of encouraging some of you to participate in Capitol Hill Days in future years.

Over the last few years, AAHPM has worked to craft a bill, entitled the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), aimed at expanding opportunities for interdisciplinary education and training in palliative care and to secure support for its introduction in Congress. Specifically, PCHETA has 5 major aims:

1. Establishes Palliative Care and Hospice Education Centers to improve the training of interdisciplinary health professionals; develop and disseminate palliative care curricula; support training and retraining of faculty; provide students with clinical training in appropriate sites of care; and provide traineeships for advanced practice nurses.

2. Provides for physician training by authorizing grants to schools of medicine, teaching hospitals, and GME programs to train physicians (including residents, trainees, and fellows) who plan to teach palliative medicine.

3. Establishes Academic Career Awards to promote the career development of BC/BE junior faculty physicians in HPM. Eligible individuals must provide assurance of a full-time faculty appointment in a health professions institution and commit to spend a majority of their funded time teaching and developing skills in interdisciplinary education in palliative care.

4. Emphasizes workforce development by authorizing funding for up to 24 Palliative Care and Hospice Education Centers to establish fellowship programs that provide short-term intensive courses focused on palliative care. These fellowship programs will target current faculty who do not have formal training in palliative care and will provide formal re-training of these mid-career physicians in palliative medicine.

5. Provides career incentive awards for eligible health professionals who agree to teach or practice in the field of palliative care for at least 5 years. Eligible individuals include: advanced practice nurses, clinical social workers, pharmacists, and psychologists who are pursuing a doctorate or other advanced degrees in palliative care or related fields.

Sounds pretty great, right? Our visit to the Hill was timed to coincide with the week of this bill’s introduction on both the House and Senate floors. We began on Monday evening, July 16, with a working dinner where we were briefed on the bill and its potential impact on our field. We were lucky enough to have Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the primary sponsor of the bill, come to speak with us about his personal interest in this bill and about how we could be helpful to the cause in our upcoming meetings with other senators, representatives, and their staff members.

Tuesday morning, we learned about the legislative process and heard from various groups who are present throughout the year on the Hill working to advance issues related to hospice and palliative care. This was followed on Tuesday afternoon by highly coordinated visits with our local senators and representatives and/or members of their staff. In my case, I met with Legislative Assistants (LAs) for both of my state senators from North Carolina and with my own local representative, Rep. David Price (D-NC).

These experiences on Tuesday afternoon were clearly the highlight of the trip. We were understandably somewhat nervous as we entered the Senate and House office buildings, going through metal detectors and finding our way to the appropriate office replete with the state flag positioned outside the door. Luckily, we were accompanied by one of the staff members from the lobbying organization which supports AAHPM. They were there to ensure that we knew what to say (and what not to say) and also to debrief with us after our meetings. When meeting with legislative assistants, the staff member’s knowledge of the bill could vary from none to a modest amount. We often found ourselves explaining the difference between hospice and palliative care and highlighting the workforce issues in our field, especially as the population ages and becomes ever sicker. All in all, much of the interaction was not that different from talking with a patient or family member in our clinical setting. And who better to communicate about our field than one of us?! That, of course, is the impetus for these Capitol Hill Days.

The day after our visit, on July 19, 2012, AAHPM’s efforts came to fruition when the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) was introduced in the United States Congress. PCHETA was introduced as S.3407 in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and as H.R.6155 in the House by Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY17). As a result of our group’s collective efforts that week as well as ongoing efforts by AAHPM members and our lobbying group, the bill now has 38 co-sponsors in the House and 6 co-sponsors in the Senate.

As we learned during our time on the Hill, the introduction of PCHETA and gaining the above co-sponsors does not indicate that our work is done. In fact, just this week, those of us who attended Capitol Hill Days are following up with the staffers with whom we met in July. Any additional co-sponsors that we can gain during this lame duck session are very important as this support is very likely to carry over when the bill is re-introduced next year.

So, what can you do? If PCHETA sounds great to you, please visit the AAHPM Legislative Action Center at and take the time to contact your senators and representative. It doesn’t take long but it will go a long way towards this bill gaining traction leading in to the next Congress. Think of it as your way of giving thanks for the work that AAHPM elected leaders and staff members do on our behalf year-round for our field and its practitioners.

Overall, I found Capitol Hill Days to be a great opportunity to learn more about AAHPM’s policy agenda and advocacy efforts and to network with other AAHPM members interested in advocacy on the part of AAHPM and our field. If you have any questions about ths experience, I’d be more than happy to speak with any of you about it.

Best wishes to you all for a Thanksgiving spent with family or friends or doing good work for patients and families,

Lynn O’Neill, MD
Duke Palliative Care
Assistant Professor, Division of Geriatrics
Duke University School of Medicine
DUMC Box 2706, Durham, NC 27710
Telephone 919-668-7215 ~ Fax 919-684-0572

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