Advocacy Meetings and the Policy Action Institute: A Student's Perspective

by Regan Doherty

Before National Public Health Week this April, the advocacy meeting experience I had consisted of attending meetings with Massachusetts legislative officials and their staff in high school at various state house breakfasts. When I got the email that I was recommended to apply for the Affiliate Leader for the American Public Health Association’s Policy Action Institute, I was excited to level up to the big leagues of DC, virtually, of course. As a senior in college at the University of New Hampshire, studying Health Management & Policy and attending Boston University getting my Master’s Degree in Public Health in Health Policy & Law in the fall, this experience was very beneficial, and I will use what I learned to further my policy advocacy in the future.

I was introduced to the Policy Action Institute by a professor who sent me the information because she knew my passion for health policy. The application process was brief but stated that if I were to become the New Hampshire Chapter Affiliated Leader, I would be required to set up advocacy meetings, conduct the sessions, and share what I have learned.

Essentially, I was tasked with setting up public health meetings with Senator Hassan and Senator Shaheen’s offices about public health priorities for the 2021-2022 legislative session. First, I reached out to the meeting participants in the NH affiliate to work out a scheduled time and topic of choice before I reached out to the two senate offices. After our group established priority areas that were important to discuss, I reached out to senate staffers and scheduled the meetings.

The only previous experience with advocacy meetings I had had, was in-person meetings. When it came to virtual meetings, I was unsure at first how to format the meetings to make sure the points are made, and it runs efficiently. I created a brief overview presentation that touched on the meeting participant introductions, the American Public Health Association’s legislative priorities, the specific priority we were focusing on, and our “ask” of the meeting. This allowed the staffer to be briefed, and then following the discussion, the meeting participants would share their experience and why public health infrastructure was so important.

Going into the Policy Action Institute, I was nervous because I have not had to conduct and lead meetings surrounded by people who were much more experienced in both the state of New Hampshire and the field of public health. It required me to be organized and efficient in ensuring that both parties involved in the meetings had the correct information. When it came to the meetings, I researched public health infrastructure because I wanted to learn additional information about the subject before the sessions.  The brief presentation I created helped me better understand what we were talking about and provided a good foundation for the meeting.  Conducting the meetings allowed me to have practice in leading and gave me more practice in initiating discussions.

There has been a lot missed this year, and I am thankful that there was a way to conduct the advocacy meetings during National Public Health Week this year. Even though it was virtual, I was able to grow my knowledge of everything from public speaking to speaking about public health infrastructure. I want to thank Nancy Frank, Jeanie Holt, and April Mottram for sharing their experiences and knowledge about public health and advocacy.  I cannot wait to conduct more meetings in the future and advance the legislation for public health both in New Hampshire and the country as a whole.

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