By Mary-Lynn Bender, AACOM Interim Vice President of Government and Public Relations
During the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)’s virtual annual conference awards ceremony at Educating Leaders 2020, ED to MED recognized Shawn Hamm, DO, MPH, as the 2020 ED to MED Outstanding Advocate of the Year. As a medical student at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Hamm was consistently one of the strongest voices advancing ED to MED’s policy priorities. Now, as a family medicine resident, he continues to be deeply and actively engaged in the advocacy sphere, embodying what it means to be a lifelong advocate. Dr. Hamm consistently goes above and beyond to elevate the voices of health professionals and patients, and we are honored to be able to recognize him for all that he does. Learn more about Dr. Hamm’s advocacy journey in our interview below, and let his story inspire you to commit to advocacy throughout your career.
Congratulations, Shawn, on being awarded the 2020 ED to MED Outstanding Advocate of the Year! As a current resident who’s been deeply passionate about advocacy even before you started medical school, can you talk a little bit about why advocacy is so important to you?
I want to thank ED to MED for this honor, and for the unwavering support they continue to provide osteopathic medical students and residents in our journey to becoming stronger advocates for our profession.
Advocacy is an important tool that you can use to make change become a reality. During my health care administration career prior to medical school, I had the pleasure of advocating for continued funding of key public health programs, such as federally qualified community health centers, and block grants that support access to care for children with special health care needs. I found that by using my own voice, I could elevate the voice of the special patient populations I served to meet their needs. As I navigated through medical school and into my family medicine residency training, I have come to appreciate the clear challenges we face on the medical education side of health care. The physician shortage, lack of funding for expansion of graduate medical education positions, threatened cuts to federal student financial aid, and the reality of enormous graduate student loan debt, to name a few, are all policy issues that personally impact me, my colleagues, and our profession. Through advocacy, we have an opportunity to use our collective voice to influence the decisions our policymakers are making on these health policy issues. Advocacy has become deeply personal for me, and I think once we all realize that by using our one voice we have the power to make change become a reality, it will be hard to stop our momentum.
What role can medical residents play in the advocacy sphere?
No matter what specialty a resident is training in, we are the future of our profession and the health care workforce that will have to operate within the guardrails of the health care system we create for tomorrow. Therefore, we are in a particularly critical position to advocate for improvements to our current system, starting today. Residents have the potential to impact medical education, the way we practice medicine, and how both are funded if we take time to join committees, boards, societies, and have a united front in our message. My personal experience has been that our attending physicians—our mentors and advisors—truly want us at the table to shape the future. They want our innovative ideas and our renewed sense of excitement for the profession to help guide what medicine will look like tomorrow. All we have to do is be at the table.
At a time when our nation is facing extreme health care challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the dangers of the physician shortage are becoming so clear, people may be looking for ways to support our country’s health professionals. Why is now an especially important time to join the ED to MED campaign or other grassroots campaigns that help address physician shortages?
We have a unique opportunity to get our message across and have our voices be heard while we have the attention of our policymakers during this challenging time. The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the many pitfalls and inadequacies of our health care system, including the physician shortage. We have known for a long time that our physician workforce is not robust enough to meet patient needs, and we have been advocating to get this changed. However, sometimes it takes a crisis to truly highlight these challenges and bring them to the forefront of the local, state, and national health care conversation. Even though we are all-hands-on-deck trying to care for our patients, both with and without COVID-19, this is our time to also engage our policymakers with full force. By joining a grassroots campaign like ED to MED, you can elevate your voice in conjunction with the momentum of your health care colleagues around the nation to make real change happen. ED to MED gave me the platform and resources I needed to feel comfortable reaching out to Congress about the issues I was passionate about. If anyone is looking for a time to engage in advocacy for the future health care workforce, now is the time to join ED to MED to help support your advocacy efforts.
Looking back on your advocacy efforts over the years, can you share a particular moment, accomplishment, or story about a time you felt you made a real difference?
Sometimes it is hard to know if you are truly making a real difference, despite your best efforts and commitment to the cause. I recently received a very kind message on social media from a fellow medical student thanking me for being a role model and advocate for our profession. Up until that moment, I had never considered myself a role model for advocacy. I was just doing what I was passionate about and garnering support from my Members of Congress to invest in the future physician workforce. That moment, one kind gesture, put a few things into perspective for me. Today, tomorrow, or even in the near future, we may not accomplish our advocacy goals, but we will always keep trying. At the end of the day though, you can make a difference by showing up, being a role model, and inspiring fellow medical students, residents, and health care colleagues to join the cause in influencing public policy decisions that affect our future.
Looking ahead, what do you hope to accomplish as a medical professional and advocate?
Choosing to be a family medicine physician was one of the best decisions of my life. I go to work each day knowing that I get to be an advocate for my patients. Finding new ways to get affordable prescription drugs, facilitate critical referrals to the specialists they need for acute and preventative care, help them through the struggle of smoking cessation, and celebrate the small wins in chronic disease management—this is what it’s all about for me. In addition, family medicine affords me the opportunity to see health care on the frontlines and listen to the barriers my patients face to receiving value-based care. I want to share these stories from the frontlines with local, state, and national policymakers to influence change on a population health level. My ultimate goal is to reach a healthy balance between advocating for my patients on a day-to-day basis and continue my larger scale advocacy for the future physician workforce as often as I can. I hope in my own small way that I can help transform our current health care system into a proactive, preventative one that works for both health care providers and our patients. I hope, again in my own small way, that I can continue my grassroots advocacy efforts to accomplish the expansion of graduate medical education positions and make medical school more affordable for any student that wants to join our amazing profession. When advocates have the support of organizations like AACOM and grassroots campaigns like ED to MED, anyone can achieve what they set their mind to. Together, we can keep fighting the good fight.