By Eric P. Balaban
Medical Student, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
As a medical student, I’ve been told repeatedly how I will eventually make a difference in the community. Words like ‘policy, ‘systems’, and ‘leadership’ become bruised terms as we’re briefed on the various problems in today’s health care. All too often, however, the lessons seem to stop short of explaining what realistic initiatives actually exist to exact such a difference. The AMA’s National Advocacy Conference (NAC) gave me just that – a real opportunity to make a difference.
The NAC welcomed me to experience ‘policy’ in a truly palpable way. I saw firsthand the new resolutions being considered. I learned about legislative initiatives directly from members of Congress. And above all, I had the opportunity to dive into the political discussion with congresswomen and congressmen on our visits to Capitol Hill. It suddenly became clear to me how medicine and policy were, in fact, separate ‘systems’, and how crucial the interface between the two were.
The clearest impression that the NAC left me with, however, was that of ‘leadership’. Scores of physicians and medical students travelled across the country. They volunteered their time to join the conversation surrounding opioids, electronic medical records, and other topics I’d heard or read about.
Even as a medical student, I was shocked to routinely find the undivided attention of congressional aides as they asked us to help inform them on these topics. It was clear that even my level of medical knowledge and experience could contribute to solving these problems. I wasn’t an elite expert and I wasn’t an elected official, but I was being a leader regardless.
I was able to both experience and contribute to policy formation through at the NAC. Furthermore, it showed me that there is very real discussion about the crises that we so frequently hear about in the classroom, in the clinic, or on the wards, and they’re happening at this very moment.
It seems clear to me that in a reality that needs change and a system that gives us a voice, there’s an inherent responsibility that we all must accept to get involved. This year’s NAC was my first, but I know it won’t be my last.