How Medical Students Can Get Involved in Advocacy – DO

student initiative

Osteopathic medical students have multiple opportunities to participate in and influence health care policies that will directly impact future patients.

As I reflect on my medical school experience, I realize that politics can play an important role in health care and the medical profession. Whether it’s reproductive rights or climate change, politics impacts how we care for patients. When medical students and physicians have a comprehensive understanding of our health care system and an in-depth understanding of health care policy, they are well-positioned to participate in the process of formulating and shaping health care policy, which often directly impacts the day-to-day work of physicians Medical practice.

During my first year of medical school, I became interested in the intersection of politics and health care and started a health policy interest group. Through this group, we are able to discuss health care issues in the United States with club members to better understand what patients face when it comes to medicine.

As a second-year medical student, I joined the Washington Academy of Family Physicians (WAFP) and the Washington Osteopathic Medical Association (WOMA). Through these associations, I am able to work directly with legislators to advocate for policies that impact physicians, students, and the osteopathic profession. Now in my third year as a student trustee for WAFP, I help promote the growth of family medicine in Washington State.

Medical students have a unique perspective on the health care system because they are learning about the complexities of patient care and the broader social and economic factors that influence health outcomes. This perspective is invaluable in developing health policy; medical students involved in health policy can make a real difference in the lives of patients and communities.

Here are some reasons why medical student involvement in health policy is beneficial:

  1. Advocate for patients: Given what they learn in medical school, medical students are well-equipped to advocate for policies that improve care delivery and health outcomes.
  2. Addressing the social determinants of health: Medical students learn about the social determinants of health, the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence health outcomes. These determinants play an important role in health disparities; medical students involved in health policy can work to address these disparities by advocating for policies that address the root causes of adverse health outcomes.
  3. Shaping the future of healthcare: By participating in policy development, medical students can help create a more patient-centered, equitable, and efficient health care system.
  4. Gain real-world experience: Medical students involved in health policy gain real-world experience that will be valuable throughout their careers. They learn how to develop, implement and evaluate policy, while also gaining communication, advocacy and leadership skills.
  5. Make a difference: When medical students advocate for policies that become law, they are able to see the real results of their advocacy efforts. Even if they advocate for policies that are not signed into law, they still provide valuable education to lawmakers.

How to participate

The best way to advocate is to first determine at which level of politics you want to be involved: local, state, and/or federal. For example, I wanted to start with state-level policy, so I chose to attend the WAFP and WOMA Advocacy Day at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. During these advocacy events, I discussed important legislation to improve primary care access with state senators and representatives. Among other legislation, we advocated for HB 1357, a bill that would modernize the prior authorization process for primary care providers (PCPs), signed into law on May 9, 2023.

Getting involved in national medical associations like the AOA and the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) is a great way to help shape health care policy. These organizations provide students with ample opportunities to collectively use their voices to influence the legislative process. One of the best opportunities to achieve this goal is the AOA DO Day conference held annually in Washington, D.C., where DOs and osteopathic medical students present to members of Congress about the osteopathic medical profession and current legislation that positively impacts health care. DO Day 2024 will be held on April 13-14, 2024 (virtual session) and April 17-18, 2024 (in-person congressional session). You can also join the AOA Osteopathic Advocacy Network to help build and cultivate relationships with legislators.

Here are more ways to get involved in medical school health policy:

  1. Join your state’s osteopathic medical association: Participating in your state chapter can provide you with a greater understanding of relevant issues affecting local physicians and patients.
  2. Form a health policy interest group: Many medical school faculty like me have extensive experience in politics. By forming an interest group, you can learn more about issues you are passionate about.
  3. Become a SOMA member: SOMA is the governing body for osteopathic medical students. Through SOMA, you can write resolutions for the AOA House of Representatives to consider as official AOA policy. You can also serve as a medical student representative.
  4. Get involved with the Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP): COSGP is another governing body for DO students. You can learn more about COSGP advocacy opportunities on the AACOM website.
  5. Apply to become an Omega Beta Iota (OBI) member: OBI is the National Osteopathic Medical Political Honor Society, founded in 2007 to help highlight and emphasize the important service that osteopathic medical students provide to the American political system.

Change can start with you

As discussed, there are many benefits to being involved in advocacy as a medical student, one of the most valuable being the opportunity to create positive change in the healthcare system. The more osteopathic medical students engage in advocacy, the more we can make a difference in the lives of patients and medical professionals.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the DO or AOA.

Related Reading:

Being a Medical School Mom: How I Make It Work

Studying anatomy in medical school: Is it still necessary to work with cadavers?

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