By Shikha Patel, OMS-IV, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine
As a fourth-year osteopathic medical student, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM)’s Osteopathic Health Policy Internship Program. My interest in health policy first began during my undergraduate training at the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. I majored in Human Biology, Health and Society and minored in Health Policy, which allowed me to take courses to better understand the biopsychosocial and systemic issues within the healthcare system. I have continued my commitment to policy and advocacy work throughout my time as a medical student at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. I have attended advocacy days on the Hill, written resolutions to impact policies for the Student Osteopathic Medical Association and the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians and participated in AACOM’s ED to MED campaign and the American Osteopathic Association’s Osteopathic Advocacy Network. Through these experiences, I have grown tremendously as an advocate and as a future physician. I have also come to one critical realization; advocacy is not only what you can change, it’s also what you can empower others to change
As an advocate, you are often focused on sharing your own story with your policymakers. For example, I met with my elected officials and congressional staff to advocate for the Grad PLUS and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Programs. These programs make it possible for students like me to become physicians. Many medical students, myself included, rely on Grad PLUS loans for our living expenses during medical school because the Direct Unsubsidized Loans available to graduate students typically are only enough to cover tuition costs, while Grad PLUS loans are uncapped and cover the full cost of attendance. As for PSLF, it seeks to increase the number of people working in public service by providing student loan debt relief. Many medical students, again myself included, plan to enroll in this program after graduation so that we can get some of our loans forgiven in exchange for providing care through working at a not-for-profit organization. When I met with the policymakers, I told them my personal story to show them why I care about these programs and why they should be protected.
The Power of the Unified Voice
While it is important for me to take action as an individual, I believe that I also need to inspire others to take action so that we can collectively strengthen our advocacy and make it long lasting. There is no question that we as medical students need to continue to advocate for changes in current health policies so that we can have a better healthcare system. However, we also need to make sure that we are talking with other students about these issues and encouraging them to get involved. To lead change, we must work to change the system and change the people. To change the system, we can work to improve structural policies; to change the people, we can engage in education and mentorship activities. By inspiring change in the people, we can motivate others to join us in advocacy, which will only further amplify our individual efforts.
A Shifting Mindset
How do we bring about change in the people? I personally don’t think it needs to be that extensive or time consuming. After all, medical students lead busy lives already. I think it starts with a simple shift in our mindsets about advocacy. As we think about different ways to get involved, let us also think about different ways we can empower other students. As student leaders, there is constant turnover in our positions; so, the next time you are about to leave your position, make it a point to conduct the transition process so the new person feels fully prepared to take over their new role. For the upperclassmen, make it a point to connect with younger students and serve as a point of contact for them. If each of us takes an extra step and thinks about including others in our own actions, then we will be able to strengthen our advocacy efforts and our advocacy networks.
Imagine if each of us could inspire just one other student to take action. That would double our efforts. If we could inspire two other students, it would triple our efforts. If those students then went on to inspire even more students who then went on to inspire more students and so on, our collective advocacy could have the power to bring about unimaginable changes in the healthcare system. If you are already a passionate advocate working hard to effect change on your own, I encourage you to reach out to others to inspire them to do the same.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.