As both a clinician and an adjunct professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., Brenda Lee Frie, EdD, OTR/L, CHT, is in a unique position to not only advocate for patients herself, but to teach the next generation of healthcare professionals about the importance of advocacy. Dr. Frie, an occupational therapist at Fairview Hand Center, Minneapolis, who recently joined the ACR’s Government Affairs Committee (GAC), appreciates the interprofessional nature of ACR/ARP advocacy efforts. She spoke with The Rheumatologist about her experiences with advocacy, why she joined the GAC and why it’s important to teach students about how our nation’s political systems work.
The Rheumatologist (TR): What types of advocacy efforts have you been involved with, both pre-COVID-19 and during COVID-19?
Dr. Frie: Most of my advocacy has been prior to this appointment [on the GAC], and it was done through professional organizations and my job at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. We did some events, such as Capitol Hill Day at our state capitol, which parallels my work with the [GAC] in that we were looking at reimbursement, licensure and patient access to services. I try to keep my eye on the balance between physician and allied health professions’ legislative concerns, such as telehealth access.
TR: Why did you join the GAC?
Dr. Frie: I was invited. The GAC was an area that I had been looking into professionally and that blended well with my background, focusing on a mix of interprofessional, academic and clinical concerns. I saw it as an intersection of my professional training—it offered an opportunity for me to learn and for me to pass what I learn on to my students.
TR: Why is advocacy still important in the midst of a public health emergency?
Dr. Frie: The public health emergency is a disruptive change, which brings forth—or perhaps even advances—the openness for healthcare in a way that we could not have foreseen. It pushes issues to the forefront, which we’ve seen with telehealth, patient care access and unprecedented layoffs of health professionals, and it requires an active advocacy force. It is important to defend and support healthcare access, practice and reimbursement to optimize care for our clients.
TR: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed how you approach rheumatology advocacy?
Dr. Frie: Playing an active role in professional organizations helps me keep the pulse on current issues. Close ties with professional organizations is important as they relay messages of advocacy to the community. The increased use of technology through apps and electronic communication increases our ability to advocate on a larger scale, and it increases ease, too.
TR: What are some considerations involved given your position in an academic setting in Minnesota?
Dr. Frie: In academia, you have the ability to expose a large number of people to advocacy in many different ways. I currently teach a longevity in aging course, which includes modules on advocacy for the aging population. Students develop advocacy skills through looking at the stance of professional organizations, using advocacy tool kits and using the Bill Tracker site to follow current legislation. The assignments include finding legislators and drafting letters in support of or in opposition to legislation. The students are always excited and surprised to see how easy it is to express their voice on current legislation they are passionate about.
Sometimes I think there’s an impression that our government systems are so complex and that your voice doesn’t get anything done, but in my personal experience, it’s been the opposite. Having positive experiences helps relay the importance of engaging in professional advocacy throughout their careers.
Kimberly J. Retzlaff is a freelance medical journalist based in Denver.