By Brooke Grill, OMS-III, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
As an undergraduate student trying to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was torn between a career in public policy or medicine. My advisors, family, and friends were all confused as to how I could be undecided between fields that seemed to be so detached from one another. Once I became more involved in my studies, however, I started to realize just how much these fields were intertwined. A career in medicine would allow me to interact with patients and make an impact on their lives on the frontlines. On the other hand, a career in public policy and lobbying would allow me to advocate for patients behind the scenes and influence healthcare policy. It was not until I became involved with advocacy work during my undergraduate education that I realized I would be able to pursue both of my passions—policy and medicine—as a physician, and even as a student doctor.
Now, as a third-year medical student, I am amazed by just how influential the student voice can be in local and national politics. Topics such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Grad PLUS loan availability resonate with most medical students, as the journey to become physicians is an expensive path, making the medical student voice particularly strong on these issues. The stories we share about our financial situations in medical school stick with members of government and have the potential to play a large role in the policies they enact. As students, our voices make a difference.
Getting involved in advocacy can occur in a variety of ways. I have participated in in-person advocacy opportunities in Washington, DC, sent emails to my representatives, and helped with phone-banking events. I also plan to take part in the AACOM Virtual Day of Action on October 7th to help elevate osteopathic medical education. When speaking with representatives and staffers, I am always blown away by how engaged and interested they are in hearing about my personal circumstances. In recent conversations related to COVID-19, I feel that I have helped them become more aware of specific issues encountered by students.
Furthermore, there is a large misconception that medical students do not face financial hardships during medical school, because many may not realize how costly our schooling can be. Since physicians make a good salary after their training, it may not occur to others that the cost of education may be a burden or barrier to becoming a physician. When speaking to staffers about the cost of my education and my expected total debt, they were amazed that the mean osteopathic medical student debt is over $250,000, and that many students, including myself, will have debt far exceeding that value. Advocating for programs such as Grad PLUS becomes essential for students who depend on loans to have the opportunity to become a physician. Additionally, the PSLF Program is greatly beneficial to many medical students, again, myself included. Having grown up in a rural, underserved community, I am passionate about serving in such areas in the future. The PSLF Program helps attract physicians to the areas that need doctors most, while also providing a much-needed financial break to those who have, in many cases, dedicated their lives to medicine and caring for patients.
Do not hesitate to be an advocate! Speak out on behalf of medical students, our profession, and our patients. Strong medical student voices need to be heard at all levels of government. As future leaders in our communities, it is essential that we share our stories and experiences to bring about positive change for our future and those who follow us.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.