By Annie Phung, OMS-III, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine – Georgia, National Legislative Affairs Representative, Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents
When I first started medical school, I believed advocacy to be daunting, tedious, and difficult to understand. It wasn’t until I attended my first advocacy day in Washington, DC that I became interested in health policy and understood the importance of getting involved. Initially, I was attracted to the event as an excuse to explore the city with my friends. However, when we arrived at the briefing the evening before we’d be meeting our legislators, I realized that this would be a completely different experience from what I had expected.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by passionate student advocates from across the country, and their energy was contagious and inspiring. I quickly realized that these students would become my future colleagues, and as physicians, they would relentlessly advocate for their patients and health care team. Not only did I see students speak with confidence and purpose, I also met physicians—seasoned advocacy veterans—who explained the importance of federal policies and the effects legislation has on their patients.
During the event, one of the speakers discussed how to get more involved in policy despite the tumultuous political climate. “It’s about health policy, not politics,” he said. This simple phrase brought clarity to me and helped me understand that I could be a health policy advocate without being partisan. I realized that conversations about health policy should be focused on how to best provide patient care and ensure that physicians can continue to practice quality medicine. These topics did not have to be divisive. I’ve learned that thoughtful communication and tone are critical to ensuring a productive discussion.
Since that initial advocacy event, I have experienced the integral role that advocacy plays in medicine. As a student leader, I advocate for my classmates by representing them in meetings with my school’s administration. As a student, I advocate for myself by voicing my personal concerns to my professors. Most recently, I advocate for patients by engaging with them to help them make informed health care decisions.
Participating as an ED to MED Ambassador opened another opportunity for me to advocate for myself and my colleagues. The campaign educates health professions students on federal policy priorities including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and Graduate (Grad) PLUS loans while unifying the health education community’s voice. ED to MED educated me on these policies, gave me a platform to reach out to legislators, and allowed me to realize how important these issues are to other students. These financial topics are personal. As a daughter of immigrants and a first-generation college (and hopefully medical school) graduate, Grad PLUS loans allowed me to fund both my graduate and medical education. After residency, I hope to work with and give back to underserved communities, allowing me to apply for PSLF. The promise of these programs gives me hope whenever I think of my growing debt.
Over the past two years, I have emailed my legislators in both my home and school’s district and visited their offices in Washington, DC. I told my story about why these programs matter to me, but also, why these programs matter to their constituencies. As an advocate, you are learning to raise your own voice to speak on behalf of others and better the community in which you live and work. I’m grateful for the opportunities that ED to MED has opened for me and hope you will join me in continuing to advocate throughout your professional career!
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.