A free trip to Washington D.C.? Sign me up! As a fourth-year medical student who had recently matched into an emergency medicine residency, I thought this non-medical course was a chance for me to “take a break” before starting my rigorous training. The course was called “Changing Science, Changing Society.” I soon realized I was delving into challenging topics about policy and the current state of our government; all of which I had absolutely no clue about.
As a foreign-born naturalized citizen, I did not call myself a U.S. citizen until my first year of medical school. I moved to Ohio from South Korea when I was 7 years old. Then, my family moved to South Carolina, where I spent most of my childhood. Fifteen years after arriving, I received my U.S. citizenship. Yet, I was embarrassed to say I knew very little about how the government works and what I could do to contribute.
Through the health policy elective course, I began learning about the power of advocacy. At the beginning of the month, our class of 12 divided into 4 groups to advocate for a bill or cause related to health care. We researched the background information, practiced our “short-and-sweet” elevator pitches, and perfectly crafted our leave-behinds (ie, a pamphlet of information about our bill). Then, we headed to Washington, D.C., to advocate for our patients.
The experience was surreal. One month earlier, I never would have imagined myself sitting in a congressman’s office explaining a health care bill. On our last day of the trip, we heard from Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, a fellow Pitt Med graduate and the Director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Dr. Gracia’s inspiring and unique career path outside of medicine really opened my eyes to ways I can create positive change outside of the hospital walls.
For my entire life, I have had a passion for medicine to help people and treat diseases. In medical school, I was constantly focused on building my knowledge base of the human body and the diseases that may plague it. I watch the news on occasion, and read a few articles – but I never took the time to truly understand what is happening to our society now and how I can be involved.
I can say confidently now that I am an advocate. I am an advocate for advocacy. I would encourage all medical students to take a course on health policy. We all have a voice, as trainees and future EM physicians, to shape healthcare and treat patients in ways beyond simply treating the person directly in front of us. While most of us cannot spend every day at the Capitol, there are ways to advocate from our home medical schools, EDs, and houses. In our busy lifestyles, our voices can be heard in any way there is an audience, whether it be a tweet, email, or a phone call. All of us have a privileged duty, as health care providers, to advocate for our patients and the health of our nation.