Felicia Ricks , RD, CSR, LD, certainly has more legislative experience than others. As one of the first dietitians in Texas to receive specialty certification in renal nutrition, Felicia’s testimony at the end stage renal disease (ESRD) rules hearings was her first entrée into politics. Her involvement in legislative issues continued this past year with passion and energy, but she admits that “it took a significant amount of active persuasion by all the people I most respect to get me there!”

While most registered dietitians know the value and importance of legislation as it pertains to the profession, often times the mere thought of the word elicits a shudder. Is it intimidation, fear of the unknown or a general distaste for politics and politicians that detract the RD from becoming involved in the political health of the profession? While those who are active continuously make valiant attempts to educate and encourage participation, many times their efforts fall on deaf ears. Routinely, it is only a small percentage of the TAND membership that become the voice for all when representing dietitians in legislative issues.

In the last legislative session, Felicia, a dialysis dietitian in the Houston area, became one of the TAND members who spoke on behalf of all RD’s across the state. Felicia understands the feeling that many RD’s have about getting involved as it took a topic she was passionate about and the active persuasion of her peers for her to jump in to the arena. As she prepared for and presented her testimony, colleagues began to take notice of her ability to commicate key messages to the politicians. As TAND past president Linda Farr stated, “Each time Felicia testified before legislative committees, she seemed to be the one who received the most questions from committee members…. she remained poised and focused her answers on the essential points of our testimony,” Farr added “She was a big influence in the passage of our licensure bill”.

Below are excerpts from a candid interview with Felicia Ricks.

Q. Why were you hesitant in getting involved politically at first?

A. I thought many of my peers were more qualified than I to argue our issues with politicians. I strongly prefer to communicate in a straight forward manner, without spin or speaking between the lines, and I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of being grilled by some former trial lawyer playing devil’s advocate. As well, I was (and continue to be) very discouraged by the deal-making and back-scratching and all that stuff, all at the expense of the taxpayer and the health and welfare of Texans.

Q. Who specifically got you involved and how were they able to persuade you?

A. Anne Ishmael was the first to suggest I join the renal practice task force. She was very complimentary. When I resisted, she enlisted the help of colleagues Betty Smith and Bruce Smith (not related), both outstanding dietitians and very good friends, and I gave in.

Q. Prior to your involvement, what was your response to someone who said to you “you know, you should really get involved—legislation is important!”

A. To be honest, I refused to discuss it. I guess it just took the right issue to fire me up. You know, if every member were to lend a hand in fixing whatever one issue they feel most strongly about, there would be plenty of involvement. That 10% doing 90% of the work gets old to those 10% pretty fast, especially when it involves being away from family to hang around the capitol until after midnight to testify. We’d accomplish quite a bit if a lot more people would each commit to doing a little bit more. After all, it’s our profession, right?

Q. What advice do you have for members who know that legislation is important, but are not interested in participating in legislative efforts?

A. Do these 2 things, if you do nothing else. First, stay current with the laws governing our profession in general as well as your specialty. Adding an internet search or a scan of the legislative notes in your local paper to your regular professional reading are painless ways to do this. Second, be willing to invest 20 minutes when asked to contact your representatives at the most crucial times. We were most successful this session when otherwise silent LDs statewide phoned their legislators en masse in support of our Sunset Bill.

Q. What can RD’s do today to get involved?

A. Get your name in some files at your legislator’s offices. They were elected by you to represent you. To do that effectively, they need to know what you want. And they won’t know what you want unless you tell them.

 

Felicia Ricks is a perfect example of what can happen when even one person decides to step up to the plate and get involved in issues, policy-making and the entire legislative process that affect our profession and the people we serve.

To contact her and learn more about her assent into the legislative arena, email Felicia at Felicia.Ricks@Davita.com.