By Mary-Lynn Bender, AACOM Interim Vice President of Government and Public Relations
ED to MED was created in 2016 with the support of AACOM President and CEO Stephen C. Shannon, DO, MPH, who has led the Association since January 2006 and is retiring this month. To honor Dr. Shannon’s pivotal role in supporting the ED to MED campaign and its growth over the years, we spoke with him about his commitment to advocacy, interprofessional collaboration, and the power of storytelling to effect positive change.
Have you always been committed to advocacy? If not, what made you realize the importance of engaging in the policymaking process?
I’ve been involved in advocacy for as long as I can remember. In high school and college, my friends and I frequently debated a wide range of policy issues ranging in scope and seriousness from dress codes to the Vietnam War. After my interest in issues related to the Vietnam War and civil rights drove me to work on presidential campaigns in the 1960s, it quickly became clear to me that making change happen, whether at large or small levels, required one to do more than just voice complaints. Joining with like-minded people is an effective strategy to strengthen your advocacy and is something I’ve been fortunate to experience both personally with colleagues and on a larger scale with AACOM.
Your leadership has been instrumental in introducing federal officials to osteopathic medical education (OME). What has been the most rewarding part about building OME’s national profile?
Before joining AACOM, while I was Vice President for Health Services and Dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of New England in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a catch phrase: “Osteopathic medicine is the best kept secret.” The profession’s low profile was partly our own fault for not telling our story, and partly because we were not yet aware of the impact our profession was having on health care. I remember being surprised when I learned early in my tenure that one in five or six U.S. medical students was pursuing a degree in osteopathic medicine, and I knew that osteopathic physicians were playing a vital role in meeting our country’s health care needs, particularly for rural and underserved patient populations.
In March 2006, shortly after I started at AACOM, Newsweek ran a powerful story about Richard Jadick, a Navy doctor awarded a Bronze Star for saving 30 Marines in Fallujah, Iraq. Dr. Jadick’s photo appeared on the issue’s cover with a tagline that read, “Hero M.D.” Dr. Jadick, however, was a DO. I used this incident to demonstrate that osteopathic physicians were not as publicly visible as their MD counterparts, and that work still needed to be done to help raise awareness of osteopathic medicine, an effort we are continuing to champion as our profession grows. For DOs to continue to meet patient needs, and for the success of the profession, I’ve learned the power of storytelling to spark an interest and convey a message. I would encourage anyone with the desire to make a difference to consider guest authoring an ED to MED blog post because stories truly are a powerful vehicle for change.
As you enter this next phase, what advice would you give someone who is interested in getting involved with advocacy about why engaging in the legislative process is important?
When people think of policy, they often think of the legislative process, but I would also encourage them to observe their local surroundings, whether their school or place of employment, and notice what’s governing their day-to-day lives and situations. Most likely, you will notice an opportunity to make a positive impact. The first step to making a difference involves delving deeply into your subject area, so that you thoroughly understand your issue and can speak with knowledge on the topic. As I’ve said earlier, finding others who share your passion and vision is an important next step. As you begin working with others to advance a cause, remember not to be discouraged if you and your allies do not agree on everything. Pick your battles, identify your priorities, and utilize every avenue in which you can have influence. When you begin following your passions locally, you will see your ability and your impact grow over time, giving you the confidence to tackle progressively larger issues as your sphere of influence begins to increase.
At AACOM, we help facilitate this growth in our advocates by working to connect membership with their legislators, so that Members of Congress can hear from the OME community about how to best support tomorrow’s physicians, the health of the American people, and the public good. If you’re interested in getting involved with advocacy, utilize the resources offered to you by ED to MED, AACOM, or your own associations or networks. Hill days, such as AACOM’s COM Day on Capitol Hill, legislative letter writing campaigns, and sending emails or tweets to Members of Congress are all simple and effective strategies an advocate can take. Engaging your own professional and personal networks in these efforts will only strengthen your impact.
Why would you encourage every health professions student to become involved in the ED to MED campaign?
Every health professions student has an active interest in the state of the health professions education system within the United States. Federal law governs so much, from student loans and accreditation to the extent to which states can govern specific issues. Regardless of which health profession you are pursuing, part of being a professional is paying attention to the ethics and external forces impacting your work. ED to MED, unlike anything I’ve ever seen, enables health professionals to come together to have an impact. We thank our ED to MED national partner organizations for their ongoing collaboration on behalf of the health professions education community and encourage advocates from across the health professions to join us in advocating on behalf of public health. As the Board Chair of the Interprofessional Education Collaborative, I understand firsthand the value of collaboration across the health professions. When interprofessional collaboration is supported and nurtured, we see learning benefits and improved patient outcomes. Similarly, coming together in a unified voice allows our advocacy efforts to be more powerful and effective, amplifying the good we can achieve.
How could advocating for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Grad PLUS Loan Programs positively impact OME and the health professions workforce of tomorrow?
Preserving the PSLF and Grad PLUS Loan Programs are key goals of the ED to MED campaign. These programs strengthen our entire public health system. PSLF incentivizes health professionals to work in public service by enabling students who have large debt to do what they’re most passionate about, such as working in rural, nonprofit hospitals and serving populations that are struggling the most to access health care. Grad PLUS loans make it possible for students from all financial backgrounds to be able to afford a health professions education. These programs are a win-win for everybody—for students, the health care system, and patients. As Congress negotiates its reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, I encourage you to join ED to MED’s efforts to #SavePSLF and #SaveGradPLUS.
Thank you, Dr. Shannon, for all that you’ve done to invest in advocacy in the OME and broader health professions community! From serving as a panelist during our 2017 and 2018 ED to MED Town Halls, speaking about the importance of advocacy in the AACOM and ED to MED Advocacy Video, and your tireless work to advance OME on behalf of a healthier country, your leadership has been transformative. Congratulations on your retirement and thank you for providing such a strong example for current and future health professions students and advocates.
To learn more about Dr. Shannon’s impact on OME and advocacy during his tenure with AACOM, read his retrospective article in AACOM’s Inside OME.