Before I started medical school I was adamant that I hated politics and did not want to be involved in politics or policy in anyway. To be clear, I understood the importance of policy, so I begrudgingly made sure I was up to date on national and international politics and the policy changes that could impact healthcare (among other areas). I just found it incredibly frustrating and was certain I did not want to be involved personally in any way.
After starting medical school, I found myself becoming more and more involved in our school’s chapter of the American Medical Association (AMA). At first, it was because I wanted to hear about what was happening within the field, but then as students began to talk about the way they had been able to affect real change I started to see my place within policy. In one of the first meetings we were told about how it was in part due to the medical student section of the AMA that smoking was banned on airplanes. As we went around the room talking about the topics that was most important to us, I realized that this was a place in which policy was not just a concept, something that other people did that I had no control over, but something that I could really impact if I worked hard.
It was this notion (among the other positive attributes of our school’s AMA chapter) that encouraged me to run for a board position in those first few months of school, becoming an “M1 Liaison” whose primary function was to help get others in my class more involved in the AMA. As an M1 Liaison, I had the opportunity to go to D.C. for Medical Student Advocacy and Region Conference (MARC), where the primary goal was to visit Capitol Hill to speak with our Senators and State Representatives about specific issues (e.g. ACA, Graduate Medical Education, and DACA). During this meeting, I was also able to meet with other students from around the country and hear about the work they were doing.
Soon after, I had to opportunity to work with a student on a resolution about relieving the burden for living organ donors. The resolution is the first step in making policy. A good resolution is thoroughly researched and makes clear requests. In May I was lucky enough to attend the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS) Annual Meeting with many of my peers. I watched this resolution pass through testimony and deliberation. It was finally approved by the Reference Committee and the House of Delegates. This resolution will now become AMA policy in Michigan.
In between the MARC and MSMS conferences I ran for the position of Treasurer on the new board and began the process of organizing my own resolution: Improving Appropriate Language Access and Use of Interpreters in Healthcare Settings. We submitted this resolution for review at the Annual Medical Student Section Meeting in Chicago. Shortly before the meeting, we learned that the Reference Committee had recommended to not adopt the resolution. Although we were disheartened, we took their comments in earnest and at the Chicago meeting reached out to many other students to ask which changes they would like to see in the resolution in order to accept it. I will not bore you with the long details of this process (feel free to email me if you are interested!), but at the end of the meeting our resolution was accepted with amendments. This was the first step I had made toward changing an inequity I had seen in our healthcare system.
Chicago was an amazing meeting. Not only did students from our school successfully pass two resolutions, but we campaigned for one of our own to become the Speaker of the House for the entire Medical Student Section (a very big deal). After 3 very nerve-wracking votes and a tie-breaker he is now Vice Speaker. In addition, our school chapter Vice President ran for Vice Chair of our Region¹ and I ran for Membership Chair for the Region – both successful efforts. This means that I am going to working hard to try and get more students from other schools across the region involved in the AMA.
You might be asking about the purpose of this post. I have been trying to write this for the past month (since returning from Chicago), and have not been able to work out what exactly I want to say. In many ways this is about my experiences within the AMA, but it also does not come close to mentioning the many other things we do as a chapter or as a society (community service, advocacy, physician panels are just a few of this things our chapter did this year). Although in some way I’m writing about my accomplishments, this post is not meant to highlight those so much as it is trying to illustrate the stark contrast between me a year ago–desperate to stay as far away from politics and policy as possible–and me today–writing my own resolutions, going to these meetings, and acting as membership chair to try and get others involved.
We all have things that we are passionate about, problems that we want to fix but all too often we get stuck thinking that there is no way in which we can really make a difference. Especially in medicine, I think it is easy to get complacent and accept that the problems that exist are “just the way it is,” but I do not want to be that type of person or that type of doctor, so I am excited to have found a way that I can work with other for positive change.
1 – The states are divided into multiple regions (there are 7). Michigan is part of Region 5, which also includes Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.