As the next generation of medicine, medical students possess a new perspective. While it may be some time before they are applying it with patients, the barriers for medical students looking to become active in advocacy are few.

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An AMA educational session highlighted a handful of medical students working to advocate for innovative solutions to health care issues. How has advocacy changed their medical student journey?

Finding like-minded allies

Akhil Upneja, a second-year medical student at Yale School of Medicine who presented at the session, was prompted to become active in advocacy when he read an article about the United States’ “devastating” maternal mortality rate.

He has since advocated to reimburse services under Medicaid that could help lower that rate. That advocacy work has included writing a statement in support of the issue for the Connecticut state legislature.

“The most rewarding aspect is being able to meet and learn from like-minded peers who are determined to find the imperfections in our health care system and improve upon them,” said Upneja. “I am thankful to have found colleagues at Yale who help me become the best advocate that I can be and additionally grateful to have been able to attend the AMA conference, where I met so many people who are passionate about the work that can be done to change the field of health care for the better.”

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How to get involved in advocacy work as a medical student

Spearheading positive change

Hannah Meissner, a third-year medical student at Creighton University School of Medicine, has long had a mindset focused on social justice. In college, she minored in poverty studies because she was interested in gaining exposure to the policy side of health care. As a medical student, she has worked on health literacy and health equity. The presentation she co-wrote for the 2019 AMA Annual Meeting session detailed the prevalence of misinformation surrounding vaccinations on social media platforms.

“Everyone who chooses medicine as a career path has some desire to help people,” she said. “As a medical student, I am limited in my ability to help patients directly in regard to their health, but I am not limited in my ability to advocate. The single-handed, most rewarding aspect of advocacy as a medical student is feeling as if you are directly contributing to positive change.”

Advocacy, empathy go hand in hand

As a medical student, there is a learning curve for understanding the complex health care landscape. That having been said, Mary Robichaux, a second-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine, has found opportunities to educate herself on the issues both in the curriculum and on her own.

Her presentation at the AMA session detailed the importance of mental health courts. She also co-wrote a resolution on the topic that was presented to the Medical Student Section.

“Health care policy implementation will have a direct impact on my career as a physician when I begin practicing in several years. It is vital that I begin educating myself on issues faced by a variety of patient populations that act as barriers to care for them so that I can give input on policies that affect them,” Robichaux said. “It’s important to start building these skills as an advocate now so that they can continue to grow and have a place in my career.”

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