Medical School Life

Looking to find time for medical student advocacy? Here’s how

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

Looking to find time for medical student advocacy? Here’s how

Jun 24, 2024

Medical students with an eye on shaping the future of medicine may take their efforts during medical school beyond the clinical realm to pursue health care advocacy.

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But as you dive into medical student advocacy, an important question arises: How can it be done effectively while allowing enough time to focus on academics? Showing leadership skills through your medical student advocacy can help boost your medical student CV, but not if doing so gets in the way of passing Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or acing other key milestones on the road to residency.

Anand Singh has firsthand experience with this juggling act. A rising M4 at the Burnett School of Medicine at Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth, Singh began his advocacy journey as a first-year medical student. As an M2, he was an Albert Schweitzer Fellow, instituting a community-outreach initiative addressing mental health concerns of underserved middle schoolers in Fort Worth.

An AMA member, Singh is the 2024–25 chair of the AMA Medical Student Section (AMA-MSS) and in the spring received the 2024 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee.

Here is the advice that Singh offers medical students trying to succeed in medical school and as medical student advocates.

Getting involved in advocacy as an M1 is certainly a worthwhile pursuit, Singh said. But the goal of medical school is to become a physician, and that starts in the classroom.

“Going into medical school, I definitely knew that I wanted to get involved with advocacy and community service, because those are just two of the things that I'm very passionate about and hope to continue on for the rest of my life,” Singh said. “Figuring out how much time I had was a bit of a process. Initially, I was just tapping in here or there to help.”

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Medical student sitting on a stack of textbooks

Singh said his advocacy work typically takes between 10–15 hours per week. To have the time to work on advocacy projects, Singh advised students to look well ahead on their academic and extracurricular calendars.

When Singh was preparing to take the USMLE Step 1, his dedicated study period intersected with the AMA Annual Meeting.

“I wanted to plan ahead so I could pursue both of these very crucial things to me,” Singh said.

“I started studying for Step 1 a lot earlier than a lot of my classmates because of the fact that I knew I would have less time to study for it whenever it got down to dedicated,” he said. “I started studying—little by little—making it a real marathon, because I knew months in advance that this was my plan and I stuck with it, and I was able to stay on track.”

If you are a medical student trying to juggle advocacy efforts and other commitments, you are hardly the first. Singh said asking peers and mentors how they have been able to manage those circumstances.

“I was fortunate to find a community through the AMA-MSS, and reach out to them and ask: Has anyone done this before?" Singh said. “Everyone does it differently, but synthesizing it, all that information together, and find your own method.”

Dive deeper

Simply put: You can’t say yes to everything. You have to find your real passions, Singh said, and follow them.

“The entire process of medical school and figuring out what you want to take part in outside of medical school requires a lot of reflection, and a lot of groundwork from the beginning,” Singh said. “You have to figure out what your priorities are. My priorities were advocacy, community service, and making sure I get through medical school.

“I was offered a research project and potentially a publication opportunity,” Singh said. “That would have been wonderful for my residency application. But at that time, I knew I had taken on such big roles in advocacy and community service, and that really wasn't my priority at that time. I really had to weigh the pros and cons of my situation. But because I did the groundwork of reflecting on what my priorities are, I was able to stick through it and honestly reaffirm my commitments to community service and advocacy.”