Rep. Buddy Carter (left) and Fellow Dustin Orvin on Capitol Hill.
By Dustin Orvin
This past summer, I had the unique opportunity to complete a student fellowship with Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter (R–GA), a freshman congressman and pharmacist. I experienced so many wonderful times over the summer and met some amazing people along the way. I attended meetings, briefings, and conferences with Rep. Carter, and even helped shape the talking points of his speeches for a number of events.
We met with every major pharmacy-related organization in Washington, DC, and I listened in on congressional committee briefings that explored improvements to the Medicare Part D program. I quickly realized that not every idea Congress has is a good one. That’s where current and future pharmacy practitioners can make a big impact.
Seen as the expert
Before my fellowship, I didn’t think my voice really mattered to people in Washington, DC. I thought, “I’m only a student pharmacist. They don’t want to hear from me, they want to listen to a real pharmacist.” I now know that I could not have been more wrong.
I was a little intimidated and more than a little worried that I wasn’t equipped to handle everything that would be thrown at me. It seemed like everyone knew more than I did about things like Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and provider status. I quickly realized that everyone in Rep. Carter’s office was extremely intelligent, but for some reason they asked me to explain the big picture of relatively basic health care issues. Then it hit me. I already had more tangible, frontline experience in health care than the entire office combined (with the exception of Rep. Carter, of course). I was shocked to find that even as a student pharmacist, I had a firm grasp on how our health care system works and how a particular bill would affect it.
A true advocate
Rep. Carter is the only pharmacist in Congress right now. From everything I witnessed this summer, I cannot begin to articulate the importance of having a pharmacist on Capitol Hill.
I know the profession isn’t exactly a pipeline into politics, but pharmacists owe it to themselves and to patients to advocate for good health policies and against bad ones. I watched as numerous pharmacists from all over the country stopped by the office to bring issues to Rep. Carter’s attention. Many of those practitioners were not his constituents, but they had no one else to go in Congress who truly understood pharmacy issues. Without fail, as the meetings came to a close, they would ask Rep. Carter to speak with their representatives to help them understand.
It has become increasingly important to have a pharmacist in Congress as the profession pushes to gain provider status. Provider status may seem like common sense to you and me. After all, pharmacists are trained from day one to think and act like providers. Why does the law not consider pharmacists providers already? From my experience, many people simply aren’t aware of what pharmacists are trained to do.
As future practitioners, it is up to student pharmacists to help get the word out about provider status. National pharmacy organizations like APhA, along with the leaders of the profession, are passionately advocating each day, but they could use your help. I urge you to look up your congressional representatives and see where they stand on pharmacy issues. If you don’t like what you see, give them a call, ask to speak with their health care staffer, or send them an e-mail. Explain how bills like provider status affect you and your patients. Don’t be intimidated; remember, you are the
If you are really interested in political issues or pharmacy legislation, look for ways to get involved with advocacy, such as legislative days at your state capitol or APhA–ASP Chapter events. I urge you to get involved and stay involved. It’s easier than you may think.
A career-changing experience
Finally, I want to tell you how I obtained this fellowship. Truthfully, I have to give all of the credit to Rep. Carter. He was adamant about getting student pharmacists more involved in the legislative process. From the moment he stepped into office, Rep. Carter and his staff worked tirelessly along with our great faculty at the University of Georgia to make this fellowship a reality.
I cannot thank them enough. This past summer was a career changer for me and I will carry the lessons I learned with me wherever I go.