Public Policy: How You Can Change Our Dietetic Future
Public policy is the principle guide to taking action within the government and institutions towards making changes with laws and regulations. Public policy is dynamic, complex, and interactive. Without people making requests for change, nothing will ever happen. The people are the ones who drive changes within our government and policy through their actions and advocacy. This article is dedicated to Public Policy: How you can change our future through your voice, actions, and advocacy.
Why is Public Policy important?
Heidi Kiehl, MS, RDN, CNSC, State Policy Representative of California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, informs, “For me, public policy has come to mean a combination of taking action and responsibility. It’s important as dietitians to identify ourselves as key players in making changes that we believe should happen in our profession and for achieving the vision we have as leaders in food/nutrition. We can’t expect, hope, or wait for someone else to move us forward. Grassroots advocacy is a real opportunity to communicate with decision-makers on local, state, and national levels.”
Jennifer DeFrain, MS, RDN, CEO of Dietitians of OC, advises, “Public policy has an influence on everything we do in our career. We are heavily regulated in this country by legislation on a daily basis. What we can and cannot do as dietitians is all a matter of law. Many of us are quick to complain about the laws but few are willing to do anything about it. If we want to continue to grow our careers and our influence as the ‘nutrition expert’ in this country, we have to be a part of law making. Laws will continue to be made with or without us. So if we want laws that support our cause, we need to be involved or simply and silently accept the results. Any involvement is better than no involvement.”
Even students have an opportunity to get involved with public policy and make a difference. Sarah J. Tomlinson, dietetic student and public policy representative for the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Inland District, has already started to make changes as a mover and a shaker. Tomlinson recognizes the importance of being an advocate of our careers by letting others know we are an important part of the healthcare setting. Opportunities to make positive change and improvements are possible through public policy.
How to easily get involved with Public Policy:
- Participate in “Action Alerts.” These are the easiest alerts to act upon. They take less than 3 minutes and only involve a few quick clicks on the computer. The alerts are generally emailed to us from the Academy, state dietetic associations, or dietetic practice groups. DeFrain states, “Action alerts can’t be any easier, yet less than 10% of dietitians in this country take the time for them when sent their way. Our legislators count each letter, call, and email that comes into the office. So take the time to be counted.” It’s that simple.
- Connect with other Dietitians. Kiehl recommends to “connect with those RDNs around you who may be more seasoned, and simply ask if there are opportunities to tag along and learn more about the legislative process, the current hot topics and priorities our profession is addressing, as well as some of the history in our professional regulation. These opportunities may include district meetings, training sessions, or boot-camps on legislative/public policy topics or state public policy workshops/education days.”
- Be Brave and Speak Up. Tomlinson advises, “Be brave enough to just ask. Ask your professors, ask any current dietitians, or go to your local legislative social.” Tomlinson spoke up at a local event by disagreeing with the presented information and was offered a volunteer position as the Public Policy Representative for the CAND Inland District.
- Attend a Local Event. DeFrain recommends going to your local assemblyman or congressman’s website to sign up for emails to receive event notifications in your district. She has attended several local intimate town hall meetings and was able to get to know her assembly member on a personal level. Kiehl adds, “Meeting your elected officials or their staff is important to find out what they do, where they work, and what is important to them.” The more you know, the more you can relate to them, and work with them to sign your policies or advocate for your issues.
The time to get involved in Public Policy is now. It’s never too late to make a difference. We can take action.
Here are some resources to enhance your public policy efforts:
For a direct list of Action Alerts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
Find your State Senators and Representatives:
Find your State Legislator: