By Harris Ahmed, DO, MPH, Resident Physician, Ophthalmology, Loma Linda University
My advocacy journey began at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, where I completed my Master of Public Health degree. This experience taught me how, through advocacy, I could effect change at the population and community level while elevating the physician voice and representing under-resourced counties like mine. I’ve remained committed to advocacy during my time at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine at New Mexico State University, and as a new resident physician, I plan to continue advocating now and throughout my career. Below are some personal reflections from my advocacy journey so far, and suggestions to help others in the medical community become stronger advocates.
Be sincere, open, and consider diverse viewpoints.
Our number one priority should be patients, always. As physicians, our job is to serve patients, which we often do through medicine, and that is noble. However, systemic inequities exist in society, including in public health and medicine. Therefore, as leaders of the health care team, it is my opinion that the modern physician must be active in advocacy and the legislative process in order to more comprehensively serve patients.
When we do advocate, we must be genuine and engage in sincere interactions with others. When we contact or communicate with legislators, their staff, stakeholders, or the general public, whether through social media, email, mail, video, or in person, our conversations should be grounded in a sincere desire to make positive change.
We should also consider diverse viewpoints, as they may enhance our position for the better. Listen to others with an open heart and mind and be ready to depart from ego and pride, which could force you to stick to policy positions despite new or changing circumstances and evidence. If you have a balanced, personable, and sincere approach, people will remember you. Building meaningful relationships is an important step to becoming an effective advocate.
Prioritize your asks and share your own efforts to resolve an issue.
Understanding the importance of political capital is an important practical recommendation for advocates to follow. Make sure you are prioritizing topics and dedicating resources, time, and meeting requests according to a tiered system. Identify which topics are your highest priority. When you have the opportunity to speak directly with legislators and their staff, these are the topics you’ll want to discuss, while following up with your other goals through email or phone calls.
This brings me to another important point. In meetings, start by telling legislators and staff what YOU are doing for their community and constituents. Whenever I meet with policymakers, I begin by explaining all of the work we’ve done locally on an issue before presenting an “ask.” Sharing your work upfront demonstrates that you are about action, that you give more than you take, and that your asks are based off practical experience.
Consider your policymaker’s perspective.
Lastly, use empathy. Consider your policymaker’s perspective and goals and find ways to align with them. For example, if you know that your policymakers are working to attract more physicians to your area, focus your discussion on how your policy recommendations would help achieve this priority. Always think about how your ask will help a policymaker’s goals, campaign, and optics.
Please remember that a medical student can be as impactful as anyone. The student voice is uniquely valued by society, policymakers, and other stakeholders. However, some students do not realize the power and legitimacy they have. To share a personal example, in New Mexico, through partnership with our state medical association, students and I were instrumental in passing three bills. Two were related to establishing loan forgiveness for service program eligibility for all medical students in the state, and the third was related to establishing a statewide epidemiological neurological database. We, as students, were also able to help defeat a bill that would have reduced rural tax credits for physicians in New Mexico. The point being, for medical students in advocacy, the sky is the limit. Enjoy the process. As Kobe Bryant said, “The process is the dream.”
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.