In this episode, Physical Therapist and Advocate Dr. Mercedes Aguirre Valenzuela, PT, DPT, talks about advocacy in physical therapy.

Today, Dr Valenzuela talks about the different types of advocacy and the latest updates in advocacy. How is grassroots advocacy different than lobbying?

Hear about APTA advocacy, making a difference as one person, and get Mercedes’ advice to her younger self, all on today’s episode of The Healthy, Wealthy & Smart Podcast.


Key Takeaways

  • Three types of advocacy:
    • Self-advocacy. Advocating for yourself.
    • Individual advocacy. Advocating for someone else.
    • Systems advocacy. Advocating for changing policies, laws, and rules.
  • “You don’t have to be a member of a certain group in order to send an email or make a phone call.”
  • “Don’t feel like you have to start on your own.”
  • “You can really make a difference, even as one person.”
  • “Get used to making mistakes, not being perfect. It’s all part of learning.”


More about Dr. Mercedes Aguirre Valenzuela

Headshot of Mercedes Aguirre ValenzuelaDr. Aguirre Valenzuela received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Rutgers School of Health Professions in 2020.

Her dedication to professional advocacy has led her to leadership roles in the APTA on a National and State level. She was selected to serve as an APTA Board-sponsored Centennial Scholar and worked on the APTA “PT Moves Me” national campaign.

In 2022, she began her term in the public policy and advocacy committee (PPAC) and CSM Steering Group. Within the Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy, she is an active member and was elected to be in the Nominating Committee.

In the state of New Jersey, she is an APTA Delegate as well as a Key Contact in her district. Clinically, she currently works in the early-intervention and school-based settings.

Outside of the clinic setting, she uses social media to educate PTs/PTAs/students on how to advocate for their profession and encourage them to run for office.


Suggested Keywords

Healthy, Wealthy, Smart, Physiotherapy, Advocacy, Lobbying, Legislation, APTA, Representatives, Interventions,



Our Experiences Matter When it Comes To Advocacy

APTA Patient Action Center


To learn more, follow Dr. Valenzuela at:

LinkedIn:         Mercedes Aguirre Valenzuela

Instagram:       @theptadvocate


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Read the Full Transcript Here:


Hi, Mercedes, welcome to the podcast, I am happy to have you on and to see you again.



Nice to be here. Thank you for having me. Yes. And today we’re gonna be talking about advocacy, which, in physical therapy, which I have spoken about with a lot of different people over the years. And I think it’s great to get different perspectives on advocacy, especially from younger therapists, because I think it’s great that you guys get involved. So my first question to you is, how did you get involved into an advocacy work for the profession? And why is it important to you?



So I graduated in 2020.



I was very even before I started PT, school, I was very into politics, legislation and public policy.



And then once I went into PT, school, I never learned about what the abt does in terms of advocacy, I felt like he kind of mesh, kind of like the two things that are really impassionate about and enjoy. And so I became more involved as a student. And then once I graduated, I wanted to create



content that was related to advocacy and explained in a very simple way. What are like the current updates going on right now? Because I feel like legislation, can we, it can be a bit intimidating for people to understand and to really get into. And I wanted to show people, what are the updates without all these extra details that they don’t really want.



And that’s what I’ve been doing thus far. And it’s been really a great learning experience. When we talk about advocacy, I think that there are a couple of different types of advocacy. So could you go into a little bit more detail on the different types of advocacy, especially in the PT world?



Yeah, you’re correct. So there are several definitions of advocacy.



I can just give you three of them. So number one, is self advocacy. So advocating for yourself, for example, you’re advocating for a pay raise or a change in work conditions. There’s individual advocacy, so advocating for someone else, for example, sending out a letter to your patient’s insurance company in order to get more PT visits. Then there is systems advocacy, which is my personal favorite. And it’s about changing policies, laws, rules, and how they can impact multiple people’s lives. And that is more targeted at a local state or even national level.



And when you’re talking about systems advocacy, is that when you know we as physical therapists, ourselves, and maybe encourage our patients to send a letter to CMS or send a letter to your Senator, advocating for whether it be you know, the stock, the Medicare cap, that was a number of years ago, things like that.



Yes. So what are you are describing right now is a grassroots movements.



So, grassroots movement is similar to how the way grass grows from the bottom up. So we are the grassroots advocates, we are at the bottom we are what legislators call constituents meeting, someone who can vote.



And we advocate for things that affect the top so the top is like policy, law, etc.



And the APTA has grassroots movements. For example, as I mentioned before with CMS, it was the hashtag fight the cut movement, which was one of them. And there are examples of different types of movements in grassroots, such as me to or love wins, black lives matter. So that’s kind of how grassroots advocacy works. How is that different than lobbying? So how does that work if you can compare and contrast the two?



Sure. Let me explain what a lobbyists first perfect, though a good start. So a lobbyist is someone whose job is to build relationships and network with legislators and their staff. And that lobbyists represents an Oregon



datian So the APTA hires lobbyists. And their job is to advocate for us, they don’t have to be physical therapists themselves. But we can also do the acts of lobbying, such as making phone calls to a legislator, sending emails, even having meetings.



But it’s not like our job because you know, we have our own stuff to do.



Right, exactly, exactly. So you can be part of a grassroots advocacy effort, and then kind of take that into the act of lobbying not as a professional lobbyists, like you said, but like, for example, when a PTA and I know the private practice section will do this, will have groups of physical therapists go to meet with their lawmakers from their state on Capitol Hill, and also individual states will have lobby day within the state. Yes, correct.



And you don’t have to be a member of a certain group and whatnot, in order to send an email write a phone call is really what you want to see change personally, or even like a small group of people don’t ever feel like you have to like be a part of something big. Like, it’s about what you are passionate and care about. Right. So if you’re not part of the APTA you can still lobby on behalf of patients. Is that correct? Yes, I wouldn’t call it necessary lobbying, but like advocating, advocating, like, you can still send a phone call, Hey, I had this patient experience and I want you to know about this and be aware about this. There’s going to be a one this change in my practice, ag whatever like your state is advocating for you can still do that without being a member. Right. And how do we know as physical therapists? What is on legislative agendas, let’s say for the APTA Is there a tool we can use to find out what’s going on? Yes. So the APTA has an advocacy network, and you can join, it sends a newsletter,



every month, every couple of months, you can also visit that abt patient Action Center, which they have pre written emails that you can send out to your legislators, and you don’t have to be a member in order to do those things. Great. So the APTA patient Action Center, and there’s an app for that, right? Yes, there is a PT,



advocacy app that you can use, and you can also go on your browser as well. Right, right. So I think the big takeaways from there is there, there is an app for that.



Or, or you can go online, and you can find sort of pre written letters and things that you can send off to your senators or your congress people, whether that be at the federal or the state level. And you don’t have to be an APTA member in order to have access to that. Yes, perfect, perfect. Okay, what are our current advocacy updates? What’s on the table? What’s on the line? What do we need to know? So for the last couple of Congresses,



there has been a bill that has been introduced called the Allied workforce diversity Act, which helps in recruiting a more diverse allied health workforce, as well as retaining those students and



just increasing the graduation rate as well, because sometimes you get these students in these programs, but they don’t graduate. So that’s the goal of that bill. It has not passed in the last couple of Congresses, but it was that bill was merged. Like the right the wording of it was merged into a pandemic bill, which has a high very high probability of passing. So that has been great news. That bill is called the prevent pandemics act.



And it’s just to modernize the country’s pandemic response, and they felt that workforce diversity was really important in it. So that’s



that that’s pretty huge since it was, has been a battle



To get this bill to pass for the last couple of Congresses, another one, if you’re in pediatrics going to try to diversify these updates.



So there is a bill called the specialized instructional support personal services act.



You can also find it as a gross gross CIPS Act, as well, they call it hr 7219.



So this bill is going to create grant program, a Department of Education to increase partnerships between school districts and colleges to train specialized instruction support personnel. So PTS are included as that type of personnel, as well as PTAs. And they, and this is great, because, um, I was I worked at a school based physical therapist, and there is such a need for more therapists, so I could understand why they wanted to kind of increase, have more of a network between programs and school districts in order to retain the therapists.



Especially I,



you know, I saw, we’re going to school way therapists, but like, I just always get emails all the time, like, we need therapists, we need therapists. And, you know, there’s some kids that like I can’t even see, even in the same school. So



very important for you school, PTs and PTAs. Out there, there is also a pelvic health bill that has been introduced. So moving on to pelvic health, the purpose of this bill is to educate and train health professionals on the benefits of pelvic floor physical therapy.



I think that’s such a huge thing for pelvic health therapists is just a lot of people that don’t know what it is. And you know, patients that go to their physicians for answers, they don’t provide them the enough guidance, because they don’t know that that help is out there.



So they’ll be great. And the bill will also help to educate postpartum women on the importance of pelvic floor examinations and physical therapy.



And what it is and how to obtain a pelvic physical therapy examination, which would help increase access. And this bill was actually worked by representatives from a BT pelvic health, which is pretty amazing that, you know, Pts helped in creating this bill.



Yeah, and that was introduced into the house already are in committee. It was introduced, like into the house. Yep. Fabulous. Yeah. Anything else on the legislative docket? I can talk about a federal agency. Yeah, go for it. Update from the NIH. Okay. So the ABA is part of the disability rehab research coalition. And they some, which is occupational therapists are part of it, a lot of associations are a part of it. And they submitted a comment to the NIH requesting them to consider designating people with disabilities as a health disparity population, which I didn’t think that they weren’t. So I was really surprised by that. And this is just so important, because for the purposes of federal research, for this minority group, and it will develop and inform critical policy solutions to reduce and eliminate health disparities for people with disabilities. So I don’t know the current update, but it is great that it is being brought up at this time. Perfect. All right, so we’ve got allied workforce diversity act. We’ve got the HR hr 7219, which was for school based PTS, and that was a really, really long



name for that bill. Yeah. And then we’ve got the pelvic health bill. So all those those three bills plus an update from the NIH. And if people go to the advocacy APTA PT Action Center, they should be able to find more information on that on those bills and how to contact their Congress person, correct?



Yes, perfect. So



in turn



terms of like federal agencies, if you’re talking about the CDC, NIH, that’s not necessarily something you just send an email to.



But for other legislations, yes, you can find pre written emails in regards to that. Excellent. All right. Well, that is a great overview of where we are right now. And current current advocacy updates. Thank you so much. Now, next question. What advice do you have for students and younger physical therapists, new career physical therapists who might want to get into advocacy? But maybe they feel like, Oh, I just don’t know enough? Or I’m too new. What do you say to that?



Well, I will say contact me because I love



going to students sake meetings at different states and talking about advocacy, I have been to a few SEC meeting, so contact me and I will gladly, you know, present and help you guys out in any way possible. But also, when I was a student, I was really interested in to advocacy. And there wasn’t much going on around in my program student lead wise. So I contacted my trusted professor, which is someone that I looked at as a mentor, and they really helped and guided me. So don’t feel like going to have to start on your own, you know, find a professor that you trust and you feel is kind of already involved in advocacy in some level.



And they will help you out as well. Perfect. And who was that professor for you? Let’s give them a shout out. It was Dr. Mike Rella. Ah,



yes, yeah. She just retired, right? Yes, he did. Yeah, that’s a loss for sure. Yeah. But yeah, she really helped me out a lot. Oh, amazing. Yeah, she’s a nice, she’s a nice lady, for sure. Well, it’s great that you had that professor to help guide you. And I think that’s great advice for students and, and new graduates is reach out to those professors, because they, they can really help to guide you through advocacy, and through a whole bunch of other things as well. And they can also follow you on social media. Right. So what is your what is your social media handle? And where can people find you? At the PT advocate? Perfect, and that’s on on Instagram? Perfect. That’s the gram. Just the gram for now. That is great. And is that the best way for people to reach out to you they can just slide into your DM. Vic about advocacy only please?



Yes, or piece, you know, yeah, yeah, or pediatric care. Perfect. Perfect. All right. So what do you want people to take away from this conversation? If you can kind of distill it down to a couple of points? What would that be? I know, sometimes we can feel that we’re just one person, one change can we make? And I know I feel that way. Sometimes too. Even though I have this advocacy, Instagram, sometimes I’m just like, all the stuff that’s going on in the world’s I walk in Mercedes do what can I even do about this, but you can really make a difference even as one person, that phone call that email that you send, even just reading about it and being aware and talking to colleagues about it or your patients about it, increasing a word that awareness of that can still be great and can still make a change. Don’t feel like you are alone. There’s a whole Association backing you up in this, and it’s all for, you know, to progress our profession. So don’t feel alone. And don’t feel that like you can’t not make a change because you can and your voice is really important. I love it. And last question, it’s when I ask everyone, knowing where you are now in your life and your career. What advice would you give to your younger self? I would say get used to making mistakes not being perfect.



Because when I was a student everytime made a mistake, I was like, oh proceeds How could you do that? That’s horrible scar for life. And as a new grad, I make a mistake every other day, every day. So just get used to it saltwater learning. Yeah, and I can say as someone who’s been out for over 20 years, I make mistakes every day, too. Yeah. So it’s never it’s never ending we’ll have mistakes and that’s okay. Because like you said, you’ll constantly learn from them. Thank you so much, Mercedes, for coming on and talking about advocacy. I love your passion. And I think it’s great to see new graduates out there and making a difference. So thank you for that. And thank you for coming on. Thank you



for having me. My pleasure, everyone. Thanks so much for tuning in. Have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy and smart.



Thanks for listening. And don’t forget to leave us your questions and comments at podcast dot healthy, wealthy

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©2019 Karen Litzy Physical Therapy PLLC.
©2019 Karen Litzy Physical Therapy PLLC.