Engaging in Advocacy as a Medical Student

I wanted to write this post last week, but I had to play some serious catch-up with school work instead. I shared a little bit about the conference I attended in D.C. and the amazing celebs I met (!!) but I wanted to let you in about why I attended in the first place and why I think more medical students should be engaged in advocacy.

Prior to medical school, I worked at a policy non-profit in D.C. for three years. Part of my job included meeting with Congressional staff and legislators and running workshops to give high schoolers and adults the skills to be an advocate at the local, state, and federal level. I loved teaching about the basics of government, a little bit about a policy issue, and giving some tips for effective advocacy. [I’ll be back soon with my tips for effective advocacy!]

You know I have a deep love of health policy (#MPH) and I started this blog as a way to bring more health policy to medical students. There is so much stuffed into our four years of medical school and sadly health policy is often pushed to the side. I’ve made it my mission to stay involved in policy throughout my four years of medical school and to convince all of my peers they should get on the policy train too.

Health policy decisions made at the federal and state levels impact everything from the number of residency spots available each year (the post-medical school training required to practice medicine) and loan repayment options to reimbursement rates for physician services and the ease of access to care for our patients. Medical students and physicians are uniquely qualified to speak about the issues facing our healthcare system. We should all be given the tools to take the inequity and injustice we will see on a daily basis and turn it into real change for our patients and our healthcare system at large.

In addition to blabbering on about health policy to my friends and classmates, I immediately joined the American Medical Association chapter at my school. For those who don’t know, the AMA is the largest association of physicians and medical students in the country and has a significant presence in D.C. They also do a lot of work to engage students and physicians in policy and advocacy work — there are real opportunities to change and influence AMA policy priorities, and by extension, federal health policy. [Sidenote: It is not a perfect organization and I certainly do not agree with every policy position the AMA takes, but I do not believe in throwing rocks without active engagement. It’s how I feel about people who choose not to vote and then complain — you had the chance to make your voice heard and you didn’t take it. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.]

It was inspiring to attend the AMA Medical Student Advocacy and Region Conference in D.C. with hundreds of other medical students who feel as passionate about health policy and advocacy as I do! I was the only student from my school at the conference, so I was forced to make friends — anyone who has ever met me will tell you my element is knowing no one and heading home with a handful of new best friends. This conference was no exception! There’s nothing like showing new friends around your old city and getting in a little advocacy to make me a happy camper.

On the first night of the conference, we heard from three Members of Congress who are also physicians — Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), Congressman Phil Roe (R-TN-1), and Congresswoman Kim Schrier (D-WA-8). I was appreciative of each of their addresses, but I was most excited to hear Congresswoman Schrier. She is a pediatrician and the only female physician in Congress, so of course I loved hearing her speak! She was engaging, passionate and said she would be more than happy to give up her title as “the only female physician in Congress” so that more of us could join her. I might take you up on that one day Congresswoman!

The next day, we all put on our “clinical attire” [or what you might just call professional clothes] and white coats, and we headed up to Capitol Hill to meet with our Members of Congress and their staff. We were speaking about three important issues — graduate medical education, the cost of prescription drugs, and gun violence prevention. I acted as a little “how to lobby 101” tutor for the folks in my group who had never engaged in advocacy — everyone did wonderful and meeting with the different offices was a great experience!

On the last morning of the conference, I facilitated a breakfast session centered on housing insecurity as a social determinant of health. The conversation covered a wide range of issues, including homelessness, unaffordable housing, and environmental dangers like lead that still plague many homes. Housing insecurity is a monumental issue and no one public policy will be able to fix what is broken, but it was exciting to hear students mull over how they can be more involved in this issue at the local and state level.

I came back to school energized to bring more health policy education to my peers — and to convince some of them to attend this conference with me next year! I’m hopeful that every conversation I have with my classmates gets them more interested in the issues of our healthcare system and makes them feel more invested in being a part of the change needed to create a more equitable, affordable, and accessible system for our patients.

Have you ever engaged in advocacy? What issues are you passionate about?

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