By Aerial Petty, MS, OMS-III, Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, Public Relations Director, Omega Beta Iota
During the first half of medical school, I often received emails encouraging me to join political action organizations. I remember dismissing them, believing that politics didn’t interest me and thinking that I had no idea how to advocate. Meanwhile, I was designing posters for Substance Use Awareness Day for my school’s Mental Health Awareness Task Force, planning my weekly mental health lessons on stigma and discrimination for the underserved students I volunteer with, and creating a mentorship program to help minority students interviewing at my school learn more about our institution and its dedication to diversity in medicine. In other words, I would receive invitations to join advocacy organizations, write them off as groups that I had no business being a part of, and then continue advocating, all the while believing I was active in medicine, not politics.
It wasn’t until I began my third year at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, halfway through my time as a medical student, that I realized I was doing both, and had been advocating for my patients and community all along. It was like a light switch was flipped. I suddenly understood that if I wanted to make an even greater difference as a medical student, I didn’t have to stop at my own dedication to teaching students about mental health. I could also choose to be politically active and advocate for policies that support widespread mental health education for students, patients, and physicians. Once I had this realization, I actively sought out as many opportunities as I could to delve further into the world of political action.
Initially, I thought the path would be difficult. Now, I know how untrue that is. If you’re passionate about effecting change, you’ll be surrounded by support. How much time and effort you want to dedicate to advocacy is up to you and your passion. Attending a townhall meeting or policy discussion takes an hour. Sending a prewritten letter to your lawmaker takes less than five minutes.
For many leadership opportunities, third year is late. You’ve missed first-year liaison positions and second-year executive board positions. Third-year advisor positions are often based on participation during your first two years. But the beauty of advocacy is that there is always a platform for you to share your voice. Omega Beta Iota, the National Osteopathic Political Action Honor Society, inducts new members every semester. OPAC, the Osteopathic Political Action Committee, accepts students throughout the year. The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s ED to MED campaign, the American Osteopathic Association’s Osteopathic Advocacy Network, and your state’s medical association can be joined at any time.
It’s never too late to get involved. It’s never too late to more deeply advocate for the issues you’ve always been passionate about or to begin championing new ones. Plenty of active medical students go on to become active medical residents. In today’s climate, I’m so glad to have learned this lesson.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.