In the 2021 Utah legislative session, the Utah Academy of Physician Assistants (UAPA) joined with other organizations to sponsor two senate bills, SB027 and SB028, to amend the regulations of physician assistant (PA) practices for the state of Utah. Jon Baird, DMSc, PA-C, ATC, a faculty member in the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMUoHP), recently served as UAPA President and was a critical advocate for the bills on capitol hill. Thanks to his efforts, and the efforts of many other healthcare professionals and community organizations, SB027 and SB028 were approved by both the Utah Senate and House of Representatives. The bills were signed by Utah Governor Spencer Cox on March 17, 2021, and went into effect on May 5, 2021. 

QHow did you get involved with UAPA, leading up to your term as President?

When I came to RMUoHP, I sat down with then PA Program Director David Payne, PA-C, to map out where I’d best utilize my time as a faculty member. In discussing service, we discussed not just how I could serve the university but how I could help tie the program to the profession at large. 

At the time, I was involved with the inaugural cohort student association of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) and had touchpoints with the Utah Academy of Physician Assistants (UAPA). That led to an opportunity to help out on the UAPA’s Membership Committee, and after being on the committee for a few months, I was asked to chair the committee.

I devoted some thought to how to help build membership and I came up with a few ideas that some considered novel. One of which involved the modification of the bylaws to include subgroups, or specialty groups, of UAPA. The idea was successful and we have had growth in the academy since then.

A year or so after that, I was approached by the outgoing UAPA president who asked if I would consider running for UAPA president. It was a fairly significant time commitment so I went and talked to the PA department chair and my supervisor. They felt that it would be a good opportunity for me professionally, as well as benefit the program at large. It’s given me an opportunity to help elevate the position, prominence, and recognition of the RMUoHP MPAS program throughout the state. I couldn’t have done it without the program administration’s support.

Overall, I’ve been able to do some good things that have lifted the profession and the program in the

state. My participation and involvement led to dozens of speaking opportunities for our faculty, numerous poster presentations from our students, and influence with state and institutional policies.

QHow did you get involved with PA senate bills SB027 and SB028?

Over the last five years, I have been a member of the UAPA Legislative Committee. We’ve run several bills over the past few years with focused initiatives, all of them dealing with recurring problems. For example, we were working on a bill to allow PAs to sign death certificates. Some laws contradicted others in terms of what PAs could do. So we created a harmonization act, where we went through all the laws and where it said physician, we added physician assistant or, where applicable, nurse practitioner. We kept thinking we solved the problem and then we kept encountering problems. 

The laws governing PAs are 30 years old, so with the help of the AAPA, we started putting plans together in 2018 for a modernization act for PAs, with a sub-issue related to mental health. But the timing was an issue. We sat on it for a year in 2019, then when COVID hit, we thought, “it’s a tough year to do something like this.” But the circumstances with the COVID pandemic caused some headaches. For example, some organizations wanted to take PAs from one part of their organization to another to help with COVID-related needs, but things in the law about supervising physicians made it difficult. It took an emergency declaration from the governor for PAs to be able to have the flexibility to better make a difference. So we decided to propose the bills. 

I’ve been involved in the whole process. I’m really not someone special; I don’t have a special dual degree in political activism. I just started a little bit and it’s grown.  

QWhat have you learned throughout this process?

Schoolhouse Rock didn’t teach me enough about the legislative process. It’s all about relationships. It’s about who you know, and that’s everything.

People get into government or positions of advocacy for a variety of reasons. My reason has been to see if I can do good to benefit patients and the people who take care of them. Legislators want to do good things but they don’t know everything. So the process involves going up there to meet them to let them know that there are things that affect us and we want our voices to be heard. 

The fact is that we all have to live together. If we want things to get done and be functional, there are certain ideologies that people need to let go of so we can work together to get things done. 

I’ve learned a lot about compromise. I’ve learned to be bold, make friends, reach out, and speak my mind, but speak it in ways that don’t alienate people. I’ve learned that I can do things that I didn’t think I could do before. 

QWhat do you think are some of the key parts of getting involved?

Start little. You don’t have to do everything. Go volunteer for someone’s committee. They’re easy and that’s where stuff gets done—committees and the people on them go out and get stuff done. 

Meet people, exchange business cards, learn their names, and get to know them on a personal level. Make friends, be kind, and build your network. Working on committees has led to new opportunities and friendships. 

For example, my involvement and subsequent connections have led to clinical rotation opportunities for our students and guest lecturers that have come into the program. 

Just start small. Look around and ask what do you have an interest in and what time commitment do you have.

I would rather have 100 PAs give me one hour than one PA give me 100 hours. In the UAPA, I can find something to do for anyone who wants to get involved. When you volunteer, you get to have relationships, and with relationships, you get to have influence.

People think to be involved in that world it has to be big—it doesn’t. We had one person at UAPA who kept apologizing for not being able to do much, but that person who serves as secretary used to be a transcriptionist—so what she’s doing is so helpful and so enough! Everyone in the organization has a skill that helps. 

These opportunities reveal strengths and develop new ones. I think it can be beneficial especially for newer professionials who maybe don’t plan on staying at their same job forever. When you have a resume that shows you to be the multidimensional person that you are, it helps you stand out as you progress through your career professionally.

QWhat are some benefits to being involved for those who don’t think they can?

Sometimes organizations just want a PA who sees patients. And you want to make sure they’re productive and growing the company. But not all growth of a company comes in the form of dollars coming through the door. Some of the things we’ve been working on have been related to influencing the policies and laws that govern the PA profession, and that creates opportunities that didn’t exist before, like patient access and subsequent revenue. 

Maybe it doesn’t make sense from a capitalistic point of view, but when successful, it’s yielded fruits that, from the long point of view, have been very beneficial. Imagine if every employer took that approach. For example, if every employee had time each month to be involved in their professional association—that’s the equivalent of many full-time employees. There are a lot of things you can get done with that many hands.

QHow did you gain the confidence to represent the PA profession as an advocate?

My motivation isn’t to be right; my motivation is to do what’s right. I went from just standing around the proverbial water cooler to realizing that I’m “they.” It’s easy to say “those folks,” but if you’re a member of the organization, you’re in charge. If you’re just sitting around for them to read your mind, you’ll have a permanent position by the water cooler. 

I’ve reached a point in my life where I value doing. If it’s not going to be you, then who is it going to be? 

QWhat advice do you have for new healthcare professionals looking to get involved?

The best first step is to make it a priority to join your state organization. A lot of people will join their national organization, but if there’s a bit of legislation in your state, no one on the national association level is watching those, but your state organization is. 

I will get calls or emails from PAs who have an opinion, but they’re not members of the organization. So I suggest they join the organization. If nothing else your dues help to keep those organizations afloat, and if they hold a CE meeting or something, go to it. Collect your CE hours. Go around and shake hands with people. And maybe you’ll find opportunities to connect with people.

I’m coming to the end of my presidency, and I’ve been asking myself where do I go from here? I’ve been uber involved, and honestly, I’m a little tired. But I’m looking at what I’ve learned about the process. My time serving in UAPA has been good for our MPAS program, for RMUoHP, and for me. 

Everyone has a little time. Everyone has that little something. Take a service-based approach to it and go at it from a perspective of what I can give. Not so much what I’ll get out of it or if it’s worth it. And then before you know it, you’re in the third year of your association presidency and you say, “I just wanted to get involved.” It just happens bit by bit. ν