Medical School Life

Fine-tune your medical student advocacy skills to advance equity

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

Fine-tune your medical student advocacy skills to advance equity

Jan 22, 2024

In a career working to facilitate change on Capitol Hill, one nugget a supervisor passed along has always stuck with Jennifer Brown: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you might be on the menu.”

Meet legislators, use your voice for change

The AMA Medical Student Advocacy Conference offers advocacy training, access to legislators and exclusive networking opportunities. 

Joined by a panel of experts, Brown—the health equity director in the AMA’s federal advocacy unit—shared those insights during an AMA Advocacy in Action Workshop education session on approaching medicine from a health equity perspective. A recording of the session is available for AMA members. Watch now.

For medical students looking to get hands-on advocacy training the AMA’s Medical Student Advocacy Conference takes place March 7-8, 2024, in Washington, D.C. The event offers unique opportunities including the chance to meet with legislators, network with hundreds of students and advocate on the issues that matter to you. Registration closes Feb. 16.

How can medical students get a seat at the table in a way that can best serve their own communities as well as those with which they interact? Panelists offered a few tips on advocating equity with lawmakers. Here are some key takeaways.

Whether you are in D.C. or in your own backyard, taking the time to get to know policymakers and their staffers is the first step, Brown said.

“Whatever policy or community you are passionate about, it’s critical that you have one-on-one face time with a politician or their staffer,” she said. “Follow up with the health staffer for that politician, attend the district office events, make sure they know who you are, and that you are willing to serve as a resource on an issue if they have a question about an issue or the implications of a particular policy on a community.

“As medical students, you all are the best and most credible lobbyist we have, because you have the experience, stories from interactions in these communities. You all have these experiences. I would urge you to share those with your members of congress.”

For medical students looking to turn their passions into health policy, the AMA offers the chance to connect with nearly 53,000 AMA student members, get hands-on experience advocating for change at the state and federal levels through trainings, meetings and events in Washington, D.C.—and online.

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As an African American who grew up in the South, Brown understands the issues that her community faces. But advocating equity effectively, she said, requires having a view that extends beyond your own experiences.

“I’ll go out and meet people who are from rural parts of the country so I can get a better understanding,” she said. “When I’m interacting with them, I can hear their lived experiences and bring that to the table when I’m meeting with members of Congress.”

On Feb. 3, the virtual Physicians of the Future Summit will bring students together to learn essential skills to become leaders in organized medicine. Sessions will cover growing in resiliency as a student and young physician, leadership across the physician lifespan, and promoting equity through leadership. Learn more and register now.

While you may have the same goal when advocating on a specific issue, the way you present the topic can differ depending on the audience. Brown offered an example of advocating policy changes to combat the nation’s alarmingly high maternal mortality rate among patients from marginalized communities. If she’s speaking with a legislator for a rural area, she will speak to the local impact.

“I might lead with the closures of labor-and-delivery units in rural areas and the impact on the local economy and the jobs loss as well as long distances to travel for patients in their area,” she said. “The impact or the end result of whatever I’m asking for would still be the same, but I may meet them where they are.”

Learn about five AMA members who see advancing health equity as their mission.

Use your voice to advocate