By Maria D. Jones, OMS-III, University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine
February. The sweet smell of love is in the air. While Valentine’s Day has come and gone, its ambiance lingers throughout the month—an ambiance that inspires people to focus on their loved ones and show them appreciation. In medical school I have expanded my definition of love to include not only the people I care for but also the avenues I use to keep myself engaged with the world around me. Therefore, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day I’m focusing on one of my more recent passions: my love of advocacy.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines advocacy as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” Medicine provides endless advocacy opportunities. As medical students, we are trained to support our patients by advocating on behalf of their health and well-being. However, especially as students, there are also many non-clinical causes that deserve our support, such as policies involving federal loan disbursements as well as loan repayment opportunities. In today’s society, with the rising costs of medical education, these policies are very close to the hearts of many (if not most) medical students, myself included. I feel empowered by the ability to effect tangible change through advocating for these important issues. Every voice matters. Knowing my efforts have the potential to improve the lives of others motivates me to keep advocating on behalf of myself and medical students everywhere.
I first discovered advocacy through the student government association (SGA) at my medical school. Our SGA President emphasized the importance of helping elected officials better understand how health care policies directly impact medical students. It was then that I realized a large portion of advocacy is not only speaking on behalf of an important topic, but also helping leaders make informed decisions by sharing our stories and perspectives. From that point on I sought ways to become more involved on the national and local levels by meeting with my elected officials, and have since worked with local societies to partner on issues of interest, which is an effective way to yield results. Being a member of a team that works to promote positive change lights the fire within me to continue my advocacy for important health care policies.
Another effective way that I’ve found to become more engaged with advocacy is as an ED to MED Ambassador. ED to MED’s work to unify the medical student voice makes advocacy simple. In particular, we focus on advocating to save both the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program as well as Graduate PLUS loans in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. As an ED to MED Ambassador, I am able to lobby my state and local representatives on policies anywhere and everywhere. It’s no secret that life in medicine is busy, but ED to MED makes it easy to stay engaged in advocacy even with a hectic schedule. With the touch of a button, I can send a brief message explaining how PSLF and Grad PLUS benefit medical students and physicians nationwide. Having this direct line to Congress allows me to be a force for change. It is one of my favorite aspects of advocacy: being a part of something bigger than myself.
We’re always taught to stand up for the most important parts of our lives and to fight for what we love. I appreciate advocacy because it allows me do just that: stand up and fight for the opportunity to study medicine while working to improve higher education policy.
As the month progresses and your Valentine’s Day love continues to flourish, remember all the reasons you love medicine and take a stance with me to advocate for the future of our profession by joining the ED to MED movement!
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.