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Representing HOPA on HOPA Hill Day

On June 13, 2018, 29 HOPA members and our liaisons from District Policy Group, Jeremy Scott and Sarah Mills, were present on Capitol Hill to represent HOPA. Our objective was to meet with staffers for congressional members from the House and Senate to discuss who we are as an organization, explain what a hematology/oncology pharmacist is, and advocate on important legislative issues that will improve access to cancer care for our patients, specifically the Cancer Drug Parity Act of 2017 (HR 1409) and the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act
(HR 592/S 109). In this article three HOPA members report on their experiences of HOPA Hill Day.

Ashley E. Glode, PharmD BCOP
Assistant Professor
University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Oncology Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
University of Colorado Cancer Center
Aurora, CO

Taylor E. Monson, PharmD
PGY-2 Oncology Resident
Nebraska Medicine
Omaha, NE

Houry Leblebjian, PharmD BCOP
Clinical Pharmacy Practice Administrator
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Boston, MA

Ashley E. Glode, PharmD BCOP
When the call for applications for a travel grant to attend HOPA Hill Day came out, I wasn’t sure I was going to apply. At the HOPA Annual Meeting, I frequently attend the Legislative Update session and am in awe of what our organization is doing, but I have always been a little hesitant to get involved on that level. But after reviewing the advocacy information on our website, particularly the section on ways to get involved (hoparx.org/advocacy/get-involved), I made the decision to apply.

A few weeks later I was notified that I was one of the fortunate members to receive a travel grant. Washington, DC, here I come! 

When it was time to pack for HOPA Hill Day, I was both nervous and excited. We were e-mailed our schedule for our time in Washington and information to review in advance of our trip. We were provided with key talking points on HOPA, hematology/oncology pharmacists, patient anecdotes to bring up to enhance a discussion if needed, and HOPA’s public policy agenda (hoparx.org/advocacy/health-policy-agenda).

The night before HOPA Hill Day, we had a preparatory meeting and dinner at the District Policy Group office with Jeremy and Sarah. They reviewed “Congress 101” and provided us with tips for our meetings. They even reviewed with us how a bill becomes a law, so it’s OK if you don’t remember Schoolhouse Rock. We also had plenty of time to network with other HOPA members and talk to those who had done this before. Their stories and affirmations of what a great experience they had calmed my anxiety, and I was confident I was prepared to meet with staffers the next morning. Before we departed, we were divided into teams of four or five members who would be working together to meet with staffers from their home states.

The following morning, Tim Tyler (Public Policy Committee Chair), Susanne Liewer (HOPA President-Elect), Taylor Monson (PGY-1 resident), and I piled into an Uber and headed to our first meeting on Capitol Hill. As we were on our way, the anxiety set in again. This meeting was with staff for a senator from my home state. We arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building and navigated our way to the meeting room. While we were waiting to meet with the staffer, Tim graciously offered to take the lead because he was the only one in our small group who had participated in HOPA Hill Day before. He provided a great example and engaged us all in the discussion. As we walked to the next meeting, I realized it wasn’t so hard, and the rest of the day flew by with all of us participating in the discussions. In total we met with staff members in seven offices and were received with open ears. One staffer had even watched our YouTube video to prepare for our meeting.

I highly encourage all members to get involved when the next opportunity arises. As I reflect on the experience, my anxiety was not necessary, and the experience was actually energizing. I am looking forward to more opportunities to advocate on behalf of our organization and hematology/oncology pharmacists to improve access to care for our patients.

Taylor E. Monson, PharmD
As a student, I was actively involved in pharmacy advocacy and held several political leadership positions. I was able to interact with state and national legislators to discuss pharmacy issues and advocate for my future profession. I also earned a politics minor while in school, so this was the perfect way for me to combine two areas of interest. I wanted to continue advocating as a new pharmacist and resident, which is what drew me to applying for HOPA’s Public Policy Committee. I was surprised but grateful to be selected for the committee as a young resident and excited at the prospect of sharing my experiences. When I was asked to attend HOPA Hill Day, I knew I had to say yes.

Although I had experience in talking to state officials and discussing pharmacy bills, this was my first national Hill Day visit. I was a little nervous about sharing my perspective as a new pharmacist. However, upon meeting all of the other pharmacists in attendance, my nerves were soon calmed. This was a group of pharmacists with a wide array of experiences in advocacy, and they were all welcoming to a young resident in the group. I knew I was in good hands. Before sending us to the Hill, the District Policy Group staff shared some talking points on the policies we would discuss. This information was so helpful to me as a newer member of HOPA, and I took plenty of notes and reviewed the information carefully to familiarize myself with our top health issues.

I was assigned to a team with three other HOPA members, and we covered the California, Colorado, and Nebraska legislators. I felt lucky to be in a team with the Public Policy Committee chair, Tim Tyler—he was more than happy to lead our group through how to have a Hill meeting, what points to emphasize, and how to follow up with staffers. We let Tim take the lead on our first meeting, but by the time we entered our second meeting with a senator from my home state, Nebraska, I felt comfortable speaking up and talking about my role as a pharmacy resident. I was able to share how I care for my patients, the common issues and frustrations my oncology patients have relayed to me regarding their medications, and my perspective on how we could help our constituents receive better care.

The day was fast paced, and I quickly learned that some meetings take place in secluded corners of hallways. Staffers don’t have a lot of time to discuss issues, so getting straight to the point is key with this group. I now feel confident in making “asks” of my legislators in order to support current bills or introduce new legislation to the legislative session. Most staffers have very limited knowledge about the role of pharmacists in health care, so it’s our job as pharmacy advocates to establish ourselves as important members of the healthcare team and make our voices heard!

I am grateful for the experiences I had at the 2018 HOPA Hill Day, and I encourage all members, especially newer residents, to get involved! Although the prospect of speaking with legislators can be intimidating, the process was really simple. I look forward to my upcoming year on the Public Policy Committee, and I know that HOPA Hill Day gave me great tools for continuing to advocate in my home state. 

Houry Leblebjian, PharmD BCOP
As a clinical pharmacist working with cancer patients on a daily basis, attending Hill Day seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t miss. I didn’t think twice about submitting my application for the travel grant HOPA was offering. It was very exciting getting the e-mail telling me that I had been chosen for this mission, but at the same time I was nervous about what the job entailed.

Weeks before the big date, I tried to read about Hill Day but didn’t find much relevant information. I e-mailed Sarah Nicholson, HOPA’s health policy and advocacy manager, who sent me some articles, but nothing I read could compare to the real experience I was about to have.

The night before the Hill Day, we sat in a conference room of the District Policy Group building meeting others and being trained about whom we would be meeting and what to expect. I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous and excited at the same time. It was both a relief and an inspiration to see how many pharmacists go through the same challenges that I do and want to see a change. At the end of the night, I met the colleagues who would be in my group, and we were given the names of the staffers we would meet the next day.

The next morning was a beautiful day in Washington, DC, and what better way to spend it than advocating for a great cause! We arrived at our first meeting in the Russell building for a 9:30 am appointment with the legislative correspondent for a Massachusetts senator. Even though our group included two members who had been on Hill Day before, I volunteered to start the conversation because I was representing Massachusetts. She was a very pleasant person who listened and expressed her support for our cause and took notes, as did all the staffers I met that day. Some asked more questions than others, but all thought the legislative issues we discussed were important.

At the end of the day, I was tired—with 15,000 steps on my tracker—but feeling satisfied and hopeful that what we did could really make a difference. 

I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else on June 13, 2018, than at Hill Day with a group of amazing people advocating for a great cause. I hope that HOPA, with the help of oncology pharmacists everywhere, continues these efforts to reach the hearts and minds of senators and representatives in order to make the life of our cancer patients and their caregivers better.

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