12,000 Steps in Capitol hill: Students Learn Congress Does Listen

By Lee Lewis Husk

Our voices do count – that's the lesson OHSU nursing students came away with after face-to-face encounters with Oregon's Congressional delegation and their staffs. "Ultimately, politicians want to know the pulse of a community," says Zee Bakhtiar, one of three OHSU students who attended the Fifth Annual Student Policy Summit of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing held Washington, D.C., March 23 to 25.AACN

Bakhtiar, along with Tiffany Allen and Jessica Yarnold, were among 135 nursing students from across the United States who received a crash course on the most effective ways to lobby their representatives in Congress. “[Conference leaders] sent us back to our hotel with study materials so that when we went to Capitol Hill, we were familiar with the title of bills and the issues,” says Bakhtiar, who attended the Ashland campus and graduated in June. He is now working in OHSU Hospital’s trauma intensive care unit.

The three OHSU students and several University of Portland nursing students, plus the schools’ two deans and Lynne Boyle, OHSU director of federal relations in D.C., went to the Capitol together. “The cool part for me was going door-to-door to meet with staff in their offices,” Bakhtiar says. “We went around and explained how funding has affected us personally, and the deans related how funding affected their program or campus as a whole.”

Allen, another Ashland student who also completed her degree in June, said the trip was a good opportunity, among many things, to meet the dean. “We had breakfast with her and then hopped in a taxi and tromped all over Capitol Hill, multiple buildings, under passageways and ultimately logged 12,000 steps,” she says, adding with a laugh that it’s important to wear comfortable shoes.

Allen, 32, has worked at OHSU in Ashland for 10 years in nursing research and education support. “Because of NIH grants that I’ve worked on, I could speak to funding issues. It was an amazing experience. The greatest thing was how happy the aides and members were to see us.”

“Living on the west coast makes it harder to see how Congress works,” Allen adds. “It was amazing to see the energy and feel like I was making a difference. I know now that they really want to hear my opinion, and I’ve learned some important lessons about getting my voice heard.”

Bakhtiar, 24, says he’s always had a deep interest in pol- itics but the idea of lobbying always seemed far fetched. “But actually going there and sitting in the offices of the Oregon Congressional delegation and meeting with their staffs was a dream come true,” he says. “It was like going from zero to 60 in two seconds.”

As participants of a professional nursing conference, the students were impressed with the dedication of organizations like the AACN to influence policy. Allen says that by paying annual dues to a national group, such as the American Nurses Association, floor nurses can influence policy.

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