What if you were told you’d lose your job if you didn’t join your state’s professional association? What if you were told you couldn’t work in the setting you enjoy unless you joined? Most of us would hand over the annual fee and return to work happy that our position was protected.
This situation may not be as hypothetical as you think.
Licensed professionals have the option of belonging to their state organization. Occupational, physical, speech therapists, nurses, physician assistants, etc. can turn to their organizations to find people they can relate to, opportunities for networking and professional development.
But, there is one key element that people may overlook:
Lobbyists and representation in Washington.
There are plenty of places you can network. Attend classes. Participate in a conference. There is likely only one place you will find a lobbyist that fights for YOU and your profession. That’s your state association.
Let’s break this down a bit. Your state association is typically run by volunteers. These volunteers are people just like you. They work in your profession, treat patients just like you, carry the same license as you. Many have families, run households, manage departments, work with teams, run errands, travel and oversee a busy life. The volunteers develop opportunities for members to network, attend classes and conferences and more. But, they also give their time to ensure the profession’s voice is heard when proposed policy changes come into play at the state capital by working with a hired lobbyist or lobbyist team. They make sure the lobbyist understands your profession and can identify when a proposed bill may threaten or benefit it.
The volunteers managing your state organization do not receive payment for their time and work (of course). But, your lobbyists are paid by the organization through the dues of the association’s members. If an association does not have enough members to pay for the lobbyist(s), the voice of the profession goes silent in politics. This can lead to scary changes that you may not like and could even put your profession in jeopardy for sustainability.
Think of these hypothetical situations (and they are not far off from current issues) and consider what could happen if you don’t have someone speaking up for you.
- Physical therapists provide treatment for activities of daily living (ADL). Occupational therapy is no longer reimbursed when someone receives PT because ADL’s are being addressed by the PT’s.
- Massage therapists can no longer provide services to the lower back or buttock area as this is considered sexual in nature. (If anyone has received massage therapy for low back pain or sciatica they know this would be a negative change!)
- Speech therapists are the only discipline allowed to treat cognitive dysfunction. OT’s are no longer allowed to do so.
Do your thoughts say, “That would never happen?” Trust me. It can. Policy makers rarely have experience in your profession. They may not understand the impact of changes like this. We all need a voice.
This next fact may startle you. State organizations often have less than 5-10% of their licensed professionals enrolled as members. In Colorado, approximately 5,000 licensed OT professionals work in the state. Meaning about 250 people and their annual dues support the lobbyists that are actually serving everyone.
Even if you can not volunteer for your organizations or even make it to conferences or continuing education courses, you DO make a difference simply by paying your membership dues. Your profession deserves and needs a voice in politics and policy making. Do your part for your own career and those following in your footsteps. Join your state associations and help secure the viability of your profession.