It’s Sunday night in DC, and I’m sitting here in my hotel room anxiously awaiting Monday morning. Why, you ask? Because tomorrow morning I’ll be sitting in my senator’s office, giving my one-minute elevator speech about OT and asking for his support for legislation that will benefit occupational therapy practitioners and clients!
In essence, OT Hill Day is very important day for political action, education and advocacy and it involves hundreds of OT students, supporters and practitioners from across the country. On one day, we all descend upon the capital and attend meetings with state representatives to encourage their support of various bills, amendments and laws that are related to occupational therapy practice. Two of this year’s major issues are the Medicare therapy cap and occupational therapy’s inclusion in the recent Excellence in Mental Health Act, both of which my classmates, colleagues and I will be addressing during our meetings.
In this post, I’ve written several tips that anyone interested in attending Hill Day in the future might find helpful. Most of my tips are geared toward students, but perhaps seasoned practitioners or others who have never attended a Hill Day event will find them useful as well.
- Riding up with my classmates was not only a great way to cut the cost of gas, but to get to know everybody! We do spend a lot of time in class together, but I have certainly gotten to know my classmates on a much more personal level after spending 4-6 hours in a car with them.
- Some schools may also let you rent a van to drive groups to various events. If this is something you might need to do, start the process EARLY and carefully consider whether or not you will actually save.
- Ask your department for help. Our department is very generously providing $600 for our group of students to stay and eat in D.C. There are 11 of us altogether, so this doesn’t cover the cost of everything, but it definitely helps! Talk with your department director, graduate funding office, or other resources to see if money is available for students traveling to conferences, events, etc. Additionally, try searching your school’s website for travel funding or grants that you can apply to the cost of your trip.
- Check Groupon or LivingSocial for savings on hotels, meals, travel and attractions. Before your trip, take a while to peruse these websites for deals. We booked our hotel through Groupon and got free parking and wifi included when it would have cost us extra to access these services with a regular reservation.
- Staying outside the city (in places like Arlington or Alexandria, for example) is MUCH cheaper than staying in hotels in D.C. Book these places first!
- Consider staying with local friends and family. Instead of getting a hotel room for several nights, ask if you can stay with friends and family who live close to D.C. If you do stay, they might also appreciate a small thank you card or gift when you leave.
- Take advantage of free things! Why pay to go to a show or attraction when D.C. has plenty of amazing free museums, events and things to do? Just look up a city guide or check out the website to find hundreds of free things to occupy your time.
- Plan ahead for meals. My classmates packed a large cooler and bags full of portable, filling snacks like nuts, granola bars, rice cakes and fruit that they could eat during the day so they weren’t constantly spending money on food. They even packed pre-made sandwiches and snack baggies for lunch during our daily outings! Not purchasing lunch at expensive food carts, attraction restaurants or chain restaurants saved us a great deal during the 3 days we were in D.C.
- Do your homework. Make sure you take some time as a group or on your own to research your representatives and learn about their stances on the issues you’ll be discussing with them. Being prepared means that you can be less nervous!
- Check, re-check and DOUBLE CHECK your itinerary! We received multiple emails from AOTA and the Hill Day organizers detailing our daily schedules and when our meetings with our representatives would take place. But just three days before Hill Day happened, we got a revision of our meeting schedule that added another visit to our list. Check your email frequently, and be sure you know what to expect for your day on the Hill.
- Ask your department leaders if you can briefly present about your experiences upon your return. As a Hill Day participant, you have a lot of valuable information that your classmates who were unable to attend may not be able to get from anywhere else. For example, you can describe what it was like in the meetings, what you would do differently in the future and things you enjoyed about your day spent advocating for OT in D.C.! If you can, take notes during your day to keep your commentary fresh in your mind.
- Designate a trip photographer or two. Virtually everybody has a smart phone nowadays, so elect one or two people from your group to be the official photographers. Taking pictures of your group for posterity can be a great way to advertise your program, advocate for occupational therapy and remember the great time you had!
I hope these tips are useful and that you can save a few dollars and have a better time in D.C. as a result of my advice.
I’m currently off to bed to get ready for a long day tomorrow, but I’ll be back soon with a post-Hill Day post chronicling my grand adventure on the Hill!
Have you ever participated in AOTA Hill Day or other political advocacy efforts? Do you have any advice for talking to legislators?