I recently moved and in the process came across a letter I wrote in high school to my future self explaining what my life would be like. I was to be the stereotypical suburban career woman. Four kids, a minivan, an engineer husband, a career as a doctor, and a second job playing chauffeur for all my hypothetical kids’ activities. It could not be more different than what I envision now, except for the engineer husband. That stayed consistent.
I have found myself in a place in my life where I feel a drive to be the voice of the vulnerable, the overlooked, and the neglected. I have found myself gravitating toward situations others find difficult or less desirable. I have found advocacy, small and big, will be in my future. With advocacy (and my career) on my horizon, it strikes me as funny growing up in a relatively conservative household with a father and grandfather who always wanted to debate politics while I would recede into the couch or telephone receiver because of my lack of desire to engage in a conversation full of friction. I didn’t really know where I stood on the political spectrum then, but I did know I stood for social justice. My grandpa was convinced my “liberal education” at an ivy league school most certainly indoctrinated me and when I grew up I would realize how wrong, how naive my thought process was. I thought then and still do that I will always be on the side of social justice. However, by college graduation I still felt little desire to be politically active. Even more so I felt avoiding the topic altogether was the best course of action.
Something changed in medical school. I attended DO Day on the Hill in Washington D.C. in my 1st year of medical school. It was an opportunity for us to meet with our state representatives, both the House and the Senate. We of course had talking points and asks with info sheets, but man did we get our asses handed to us by one of the senators’ aides. Two things really struck me during this encounter. One, doctors are of a privileged class in pretty much every right. We inherently have respect and power even when we don’t necessarily deserve it. I quickly realized my career needed to incorporate advocacy as I hold qualities, such as being a good listener, empathic, and problem solving skills, and am privileged to be a part of this privileged group of people. The other thing I learned on that day was I felt EXTREMELY underprepared and ignorant of the process of lobbying, the Capitol, and policy making. I wish we had learned more about all of this as it really has an impact on our profession in pretty much every way possible. I found it pretty frustrating how dumb we all felt about the events of the day. Being medical students, ignorance can be a tough pill to swallow. I left feeling motivated to fill in these lapses in knowledge and skill. I also realized we really were more a publicity stunt than real actionable change. At the time I was ok with that, but I realized I wanted to do more than just be a publicity stunt.
I caught the bug for advocacy. I really had no idea what to do with it, but I wanted more. I sought out resources on my own and other venues to practice advocacy. As a class officer at the time, I found myself advocating for my classmates almost everyday. This is when I realized advocacy can be at any level and mean almost anything. Lobbying for policy change within my college or university was just as powerful, if not more, to those around me than anything I “lobbied” for on the Hill. It’s funny I never that I would be a politician. I don’t think anyone would describe me as that, but I can tell you right now I will be a politician on some level. To me politics (hospital, local, or national) is one of the most impactful avenues of advocacy one can do for their community.
The article below prompted me to write this post. I felt I needed to officially say I will fight for my community, what they need, and what I feel is right. I also want to bring attention to the fact that medical school is an extremely impressionable time. So many changes occur in medical students during this time. You are challenged in ways you never thought possible before you start. For me, having a curriculum in medical school to pursue advocacy would have been amazing. As I said, I sought outside resources, which were helpful, but having a community around me to help support my development into a physician advocate would have been amazing. One of the big reasons I ranked my #1 residency as such is because of their policy institute and influence on state health policy. I want to explore the life of physician advocacy in an environment that facilitates developing these skills.
So read the NEJM on “Effective Legislative Advocacy — Lessons from Successful Medical Trainee Campaigns” and see if it inspires you to do things differently.