Bringing lessons in pharmacy advocacy and leadership to life

West Virginia University School of Pharmacy group meets with congressional offices on Capitol Hill

Left to right: Grant Nugent; Cynthia Hager; Zachary Griffith; Emily Stewart; Debbie Bourquin, PharmD; Michelle Magyer; Yasmine Zeid; Kelsea Fickiesen; Devon Shadrick

A recent trip to Capitol Hill to conduct visits with the entire West Virginia congressional delegation—as H.R. 592/S. 314 are being considered by Congress—taught lessons in advocacy to a group of 12 student pharmacists and one community pharmacy resident led by Betsy Elswick, PharmD.

Following meetings with APhA staff, the group visited staff in the offices of Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), a cosponsor of S. 314; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV); Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV); Rep. David McKinley (R-WV); and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) on April 20.

Among the concepts absorbed by the group were that learning the backgrounds of new staff can be extremely helpful as these individuals often help to set the agendas for their respective congressional offices; that making personal connections to staff can be important; and that establishing local relationships with congressional district offices is important so that Members of Congress can be aware of the “pulse” of their constituents, according to Elswick.

The Hill visits were part of Elswick’s Pharmacy Advocacy and Leadership Course at West Virginia University (WVU) School of Pharmacy. Elswick is Clinical Associate Professor, WVU School of Pharmacy; Director, WVU School of Pharmacy Community Pharmacy PGY1 Residency Program; and Coordinator, WVU School of Pharmacy Alumni Association. She was recognized as APhA’s Good Government Pharmacist-of-the-Year Award winner in 2011.

Eight student pharmacists were from WVU School of Pharmacy and four visiting student pharmacists were from the Oman Medical College—three of whom hailed from Oman and one from Tunisia.

Kelsea B. Fickiesen, 2017 PharmD candidate at WVU School of Pharmacy, told that “the offices of [Members of Congress] are quite accessible, and that by simply being a representative of pharmacy and bringing attention to important bills, students can indeed help shape the future of the profession.”

She would like to encourage other student pharmacists who advocate with policy makers to “be confident. Let your passion for our profession be evident, and be sure to explain why moving pharmacy forward is critical in improving the quality of health care in America.”

Fickiesen advised others to share a personal story with their Member of Congress of how their education and training helped make a difference in a patient’s life, to be familiar with the views of each office before a meeting to best tailor the discussion for each visit; and most important, to “always be kind and respectful.”