Armed with passion to reshape medicine’s future and a growing medical knowledge base, medical students have a unique vantage point in health care. Articulating that vantage point through advocacy can be an important part of evolving into a physician.
A presentation at the AMA ChangeMedEd® 2023 conference in Chicago detailed a op-ed writing curriculum— driven by faculty members and supported by medical students—at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Presenters Alexandra Beem and Lahari Vuppaladhadiam, both second-year medical students there, posited that the op-ed medium is one that can be accessible to students.
In drawing from their presentation and a follow-up interview, Beem and Vuppaladhadiam offered these five tips for medical students who are interested in expressing their views through opinion writing and potentially getting that viewpoint published.
The medical school admissions process includes quite a bit of writing, as does college. Because of that, Vuppaladhadiam said medical students often are well-equipped to try opinion writing.
“As med students, we are encouraged to tell the story of why we're interested and our life journey and interests into a written story format,” she said. “That makes us effective to present information in the opinion-writing format.”
Incorporating your own personal experience in the process is key to making an op-ed resonate.
“It’s so important to make it personal, make it accessible, and to write in a way that people can understand,” Beem said.
News organizations are more likely to publish op-eds tied to current events. So the timing of an op-ed can play a big role in whether you get published.
“We had a meeting with one of our faculty members here who writes a lot of op-eds, and she talked about writing an op-ed that she was super passionate about,” Beem said. “Then it came [time] to try to get published, and she realized it's not timely anymore. She had put it in a drawer for six months and had to wait until that issue becomes salient again.”
Learn more with the AMA about how to get published in medical school and boost your CV.
Sometimes you select an op-ed topic. Other times a topic you are passionate seems to select you as a vehicle to move it forward. The latter tends to yield the best results.
“When the topic that selects you, when it’s the thing you are passionate about, whether it's like a personal experience or a professional experience, it’s your soapbox,” Beem said. “It’s the thing that lights a fire in you. It has been so fun to talk to our classmates and see them hit on a topic that they're excited about—and they just light up.”
Visit AMA Advocacy in Action to find out what’s at stake in today’s big health care debates and the advocacy priorities the AMA is actively working on.
Vuppaladhadiam wrote an op-ed on the dangers of the tripledemic of COVID-19, RSV and flu season that was published in the Chicago Tribune. She saw firsthand how it changed her perspective on the topic.
“In the process of writing my own [op-ed], I got a lot of clarity in this opinion I had or this idea that I thought,” she said. “Op-eds require you to come up with an actionable step, and so you're doing that part of the process—offering an opinion and a potential solution.”
Public health is an extensive topic. A focus on one issue, or even one aspect of an issue, is more targeted and effective.
“Because we start off the writing process with a broader topic, it may be easy to go off into multiple tangents or call for multiple things to happen,” Vuppaladhadiam said. “It’s important to have one thing in mind that has a clear, specific goal and a clear specific outcome.”
The AMA Succeeding in Medical School series offers tips and other guidance on a wide range of critical topics, including preparing for USMLE exams, navigating clinical rotations, publishing scientific research, and maintaining optimal health and wellness.