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This past May, I was the medical student Health Policy Intern at the Washington, DC office of the American College of Physicians (ACP). After meeting the ACP staff and witnessing the work they do, I was excited to be part of an organization that works so hard for physicians and medical students alike.
I have always had a strong interest in health policy. In my home state of New Mexico, there are many heath disparities. Lack of health care is extremely prevalent among the large segment of the population residing in rural areas. Finding primary care providers to serve these underserved areas is becoming difficult. More and more children and young adults are being diagnosed with such preventable diseases as acquired type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The many residents of rural areas in my state are particularly susceptible to such diseases because they lack basic information on how to live a healthy lifestyle. The disparities that I witnessed inspired me to get involved with health policy. I learned early on that, although physicians can help a limited number of patients each day, they can effect positive change for health care by maintaining a strong voice in policy.
When I received the internship position in Washington, I did not know what to expect of it. I am so happy that it was more than I could ever have imagined. Being an intern in Washington was a great experience. Washington is an amazing city. As a science and history buff, I enjoyed visiting the national museums on my time off. I passed the historical monuments on my way to work each morning, and I never failed to be inspired by what I saw. I found getting used to this new cosmopolitan lifestyle to be a challenge at first; New Mexico is quite different from Washington.
The internship itself was one of the most amazing educational experiences I have had. The first few days in the office, I met the staff and talked with them about their roles in the office. Everyone was very kind and very eager to teach me about the current issues facing primary care. I spent a lot of time researching these issues and even had the opportunity to contribute to a paper on medical student debt. Another part of the internship involved attending events both on and off Capitol Hill.
I accompanied ACP's lobbyists on lunches and dinners, where I was responsible for speaking with congressmen about health care issues. One of these experiences in particular stands out in my mind. We were attending a dinner for a physician/congressman and there were several other health care lobbyists at the event. This was my first formal dinner event, and when I was told that I would be sitting next to the congressman, I felt nervous for the first time. You know that awkward feeling you get when you're rotating in surgery and you're not sure if you should talk to the surgeon or not? This felt like one of those surgical suite situations. I was relieved when the congressman leaned over and began to talk to me about my studies and experience in medicine. As we got to know each other, we found some common ground in subjects other than medicine. I developed a good relationship with him and felt extremely comfortable talking with him about the politics of health care. I will never forget what he told me as the evening came to a close: "You are the future of medicine." It carried a lot of weight for such a short statement.
Another event I attended was a lunch meeting with Dr. Raul Ruiz, who is a congressional candidate in the 36th Congressional District of California. He grew up in the Coachella Valley and learned at an early age that the key to attaining the American Dream is hard work and a good education. He hails from a rural farming community. In high school, he went door to door asking his neighbors to invest in his education. He promised to return to his home of Coachella and serve his community as a physician. He fulfilled that promise and became the first Latino to receive three graduate degrees from Harvard. He has pioneered the model of community health care in his hometown and believes in the success of the medical home model of primary health care. His story was inspiring to me, and it gave me hope for the future of medicine.
I was also invited to attend a Brookings Institution forum on open-source research. There has been much debate about whether published research should be available for free or journals should continue to charge to make it available. These are the types of issues that we should be involved in because they have a strong effect on all facets of medicine.
During my visits with the House and Senate, I felt empowered when the congressmen pointed me out in the crowd and chose to speak to me in the midst of high-powered executives. This also enlightened me to the fact that we as medical students and physicians have a strong voice. This is something that we must maximize to its fullest. We see inequalities in health care every day. We see the effects of limited access to care and chronic disease. Our patient stories have a tremendous power to transcend policy and politics. After all, what is more important than the health care of our nation?
We are part of a noble profession, and it is our duty to safeguard the manner in which we practice. As physicians and physicians-to-be, we are in a particularly advantageous position to lobby for our patients and our peers. I have heard it said many times that doctors are too busy to lobby for the improvement of the health care system. This is not true. You do not have to be in Washington to effect change. With the current innovations in technology, lobbying your representatives has become easier than ever. It is as simple as an e-mail, a patient's story, or a few minutes out of our busy days to share a story with one of our nation's leaders.
The American health care system is going through dynamic change. State, federal, and medical organizations directly affect our patients and our medical education on a daily basis. The quality of patient care and medical education depends not only on competent physicians, but also rules, regulations, and legislation that govern health care. As leaders in health care, we must advocate for our patients and our right to preserve the highest standards of medical education.
My experience as an intern at ACP was more rewarding then I could ever have imagined. I urge you all as medical students, residents, and physicians to stay involved with the policies that influence the way we practice and our patients' health care. A great way to do so is to sign up to be an ACP Advocate at www.acponline.org/advocacy/aimn. Advocates e-mail, call, and meet with their members of Congress on issues of importance to medical students, residents, and practicing physicians. You will also receive e-mails updating you on emerging legislation on health policy. It's an easy way to stay involved!
University of New Mexico, Class of 2014
2012 ACP Health Policy Intern
This Internship represents a unique opportunity for one Associate and one Medical Student Member to develop legislative knowledge and advocacy skills by working directly with the College's Washington, D.C., staff and participating in ACP's annual Leadership Day. The internship will last for 4 weeks starting April 29, 2013. The deadline for applications is October 22. Learn more.
Back to September 2012 Issue of IMpact
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