By Christine DeCarlo, AACOM Advocacy and Public Affairs Manager
Mary-Lynn Bender, AACOM’s newly appointed Interim Vice President of Government and Public Relations, has been with AACOM for more than 10 years. You may recognize her from campus visits and our ED to MED Town Hall this spring, or from her previous role as AACOM’s Senior Director of Government and Public Relations.
If you haven’t met Mary-Lynn yet, you’re in luck! Below, she shares her thoughts on health professions education, advocacy, and everything in between. Get to know this policy and advocacy champion and broaden your understanding of ED to MED’s origins and goals.
What are ED to MED’s priorities?
ED to MED was founded on a set of guiding principles, two of which are being strongly prioritized right now. The first is supporting federal public service scholarship and loan repayment programs such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. Programs like PSLF are essential to help address graduate student debt while expanding access to patient care in high-need areas. ED to MED is also strongly focused on preserving the Grad PLUS Loan Program, which helps medical and other health professions students finance the full cost of their education.
Seventy percent of osteopathic medical students who graduated in the 2017 – 2018 academic year who intended to enter a loan forgiveness program planned on entering the PSLF Program. Similarly, 70 percent of osteopathic medical students who graduated in the 2017 – 2018 academic year relied on Grad PLUS loans. ED to MED is committed to ensuring our nation’s future health care professionals can continue to rely on PSLF and Grad PLUS, and is actively urging Congress to protect them as it negotiates the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), the law governing federal financial aid programs that osteopathic medical and other health professions students rely on to finance their education.
Why is advocacy critical to the ED to MED movement?
For years leading up to the creation of the ED to MED campaign, osteopathic medical students—particularly former members of AACOM’s Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents—advocated for a platform that would enable them to speak up about graduate student debt and how federal policies impact their lives and futures. In the national student debt conversation, you hear a lot about how undergraduate students are impacted, which is important, but much less is being said about how debt affects medical and other health professions students, who will go on to provide care to patients across the country as the future health care workforce.
ED to MED gives students a strong collective voice at a time when the reauthorization of the HEA is being discussed. Members of Congress and their staff hear from many constituents and interest groups day in and day out, so if ED to MED advocates don’t speak up and share their stories, their voices will be unheard, and policymakers could make decisions without fully understanding their unique perspectives.
What drives your passion for advocacy?
I grew up in a small town in West Virginia where the closest hospital is roughly half an hour away. When I was in high school, we had to move my grandmother, who had lived in that town her entire life, to a different part of the state to be closer to a hospital and other local family members, because she had cardiovascular disease. That ended up saving her life when she had a heart attack, but we were fortunate to have had the means and foresight to relocate her.
There’s a long line of doctors and other health care practitioners on that side of my family, so between that and having lived in a rural area, I’ve always understood the importance of access to care. When I speak with ED to MED advocates, like osteopathic medical students, about why they’ve chosen their career paths, they’re passionate about how they want to serve their communities and help people. You can read many of these individuals’ perspectives in the ED to MED blog. I think it’s important to support them in achieving their goals, and for me, the perfect avenue to do so is with strong advocacy.
What are a few things students should know about how things get done in Washington?
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but Washington truly is all about relationships. If you have an opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and meet with your Members of Congress or their staff as part of an association’s advocacy day or another event, take advantage of it! Legislators rely on the first-hand knowledge that they gain from meeting and speaking with constituents to help them shape policies, and your personal stories are compelling and memorable.
Also, social media advocacy efforts are effective and powerful, and critical for advocates across the country who are not in DC. According to research from the National Journal, most Hill staffers use Twitter at least once a day, surpassing the private sector and federal executives in frequency of Twitter use1. And according to key findings from the Congressional Management Foundation, 30 or fewer social media comments are enough to get the attention of a congressional office2, showing just how important every voice can be.
What is the best way for students to get involved?
First, if you aren’t already an ED to MED advocate, take two minutes to register. Follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Retweet, like, or share ED to MED social media content that you find interesting.
If you’re already signed up as an ED to MED advocate, consider sharing your story, authoring a guest blog post about why you advocate (check out a recent post here), or encouraging your friends and colleagues to register for the campaign.
If you’re already an active advocate and you want to take your involvement to the next level, urge Congress to protect the future health care workforce or consider becoming an ED to MED ambassador. Our voices are stronger together.
AACOM recently bid farewell to our Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Pamela Murphy. Pamela led AACOM’s Office of Government Relations for nearly a decade and was an integral part of creating the ED to MED campaign. We were sad to see her go, but wished her all the best in her future ventures, and are so excited to have Mary-Lynn continue her journey with ED to MED! Stay tuned for advocacy and engagement opportunities on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
- National Journal Leadership Council research, 2017; “Social Media Fact Sheet,” Pew Research Center, Feb. 5, 2018.