The APTA National Fly in Day was brought to my attention one day during lecture. When I first heard about this opportunity, I questioned whether my knowledge of the physical therapy profession, as well as my interest in advocacy (I had been enrolled in my program for two months at this time), qualified my going. Months passed, and we were eventually reminded to submit our essays if we desired consideration for the event. Unfortunately, by this time, my knowledge about the physical therapy profession had expanded only minutely. However, my interest in the issues that affect the patient, as well as the practitioner, grew immensely.
I come from a small town called Nowhere in Wisconsin where the access to healthcare is limited. As I progressed through my physical therapy program, I began to recognize the detrimental effects this reality has on people not only in my community, but around the entire nation. Despite my clinical scope being small, my personal connection motivated me to write and submit my essays. Several weeks later, I was boarding my plane to Washington D.C. with the intent of bringing the needs of a forgotten America to the attention of our nation’s leaders.
Our first evening at our nation’s capital was one I will never forget. My colleagues and I attended the briefing meeting at APTA headquarters. The grandness of the headquarters building itself was overwhelming, and the spirit shared amongst some of the professions most accredited as we were briefed on the issues to be presented the following day was infectious. After our conference, I found myself having contracted the advocacy virus as my stomach appeared to be overrun with butterflies.
The initial meeting the following morning was with a Minnesota senator. Our team had discussed who was going to say what and it was determined I would elaborate on the burdens and barriers to health in rural America while the rest of the team covered topics such as Locum Tenens, enhancing and expediting communication amongst practitioners, and the impact of Medicare cuts. The entire meeting proceeded at lightspeed. When it was my turn to speak, I rambled my anecdote with the same nervousness one incurs when speaking in front of seven million people, not the actual seven present in the conference room.
I left that meeting dazed and confused. I could not remember what I said, or if I even said the right things. Before I could collect my thoughts, we were off to our next meeting. In the midst of the chaos, I asked whether I was cut out for this. Was I completely in over my head? As the day continued, I began to remember what brought me to this occasion in the first place. I remembered what I witnessed growing up in a small town, and the story that needed acknowledgement. By the end of the day, my revitalized motivation bore a newfound confidence which allowed me to effectively articulate the needs of rural America, and how physical therapy is a resolution to those needs.
As I continue to reflect on this experience, I realize I am only just beginning to understand the impact the APTA National Fly-In Day imposed on me. Through this event, I was exposed to a network of professionals who welcomed me with open arms. I was paired with incredible mentors and met some exceptional physical therapy students passionate about advocacy. I witnessed how the physical therapy profession advocates to protect its patients and members, and I learned how I can be a part of that. Because of this experience, I have reaffirmed my motivation and intentions for becoming a healthcare provider. I plan to maintain an active role in physical therapy advocacy to ensure health care resources are accessible to those who are in desperate need.
Andy Wallner, SPT, is originally from Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison where he obtained a B.S. in Kinesiology. He moved to the Twin Cities in 2021 to pursue his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Concordia St. Paul University. Andy found a natural gravitation toward physical therapy as he has always been interested in sports, rehabilitation, and overall health. In addition to his coursework, Andy takes great pride in advocating for the physical therapy profession, as well as the interests of patients. Once graduated, Andy hopes to work with neuro, orthopedics, and/or pediatric patient populations.
Aside from his professional interests, Andy also enjoys many activities that support overall health and wellness. In his free time, Andy enjoys fishing, playing soccer, or just doing anything outdoors.