AMSA On Call
  • AMSA Lobby Day Expanding Health Care Coverage for All

    Brandon Sandine
    Health Care For All Coordinator
    American Medical Student Association 

    On Wednesday May 21st and Thursday May 22nd members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), American Medical Student Association (AMSA), Public Citizen and National Nurses United (NNU) gathered together in solidarity to support expanding health care coverage to all people in America. For myself, the events began with AMSA’s Lobby Day Training hosted at George Washington University on May 21st. This was an opportunity for premedical and medical students to learn the basics of political advocacy from health care and community advocacy leaders such as Robert Zarr M.D. (PNHP), Rachel Degolia (Universal Health Care Action Network), and Nick Unger (AFL-CIO).

    I found particularly inspiring the presentation “Organizing and Communicating; Medical Student Advocates” given by Nick Unger. The focus of this discussion style lecture was effective communication strategies. These included active listening/responding, narrative development, and focusing on context rather than content.

    According to Mr. Unger, effective communicators avoid listing facts and instead relate to their audience’s concerns. By doing this you can appeal to the context that your opposition adheres to and gain influence. As someone who has spent a lot of time developing my argument for single-payer, I found Mr. Unger’s communication approach incredibly important; it directly influenced the way I planned to interact with policy makers on Capitol Hill the following day.

    Armed with the knowledge gained in the previous evening's speakers, early Thursday morning AMSA members, including myself, met our constituent groups at PNHP’s official training workshop. We listened to guest speakers such as Representative John Conyers (D-MI) and broke out into our respective groups to develop our legislative meeting strategies.

    My group was primarily composed of NNU members from the Chicago area. I feel I was incredibly privileged to work with this passionate group of nurses who had encountered first-hand the consequences of a healthcare system that treats health care as a marketplace commodity. We decided that they would tell patient stories, of which they had intimate knowledge, that highlighted significant problems in our healthcare system, and I would present an image of how much better a single-payer healthcare system would be.

    We took to the hill for our first meeting with a Legislative Assistant (LA) for Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL). As we entered the meeting space a rush of nerves took hold of us. Thankfully, the LA was very welcoming and put all of us at ease. We began with general introductions, followed by sharing patient stories that were complicated by our current healthcare system’s structure. Kim, a nurse, shared the story of a patient who was denied a minimally invasive procedure because it was too costly, and given instead a less costly but highly invasive procedure with a high risk of infection.

    If we had a single-payer healthcare system that included all residents of America, Kim’s patient would have received the less risky procedure.

    After Kim's story I turned to the LA and asked if she was familiar with John Conyers' bill H.R. 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare For All. While she had heard of the bill, her concerns were that Rep. Quigley was more interested in supporting the ACA. Secondly, she claimed that this just wasn’t the right political atmosphere to pass such a bill as H.R. 676. As a now seasoned single-payer advocate, I was prepared for this kind of opposition. I suggested that the ACA is still going to cause harmful situations like those in our patient stories.

    Additionally, I suggested, supporting the ACA and H.R. 676 are not mutually exclusive. The Congressman can do both!

    As far as the political environment goes, I said that she was right! The current political atmosphere is and will remain closed to the single-payer argument--unless Legislative Assistants such as herself listen to their constituents' arguments and advise congresspeople to change their minds.

    We have one very important ask, I told her. Let Representative Quigley know that his constituents support single payer, and that if he wants our votes, so should he!

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  • A Word from AMSA's 2014-2015 National President

    Britani Kessler, DOHey AMSA! This is Britani Kessler, your new National President. My first month in office has been a whirlwind of activity. However, it is nothing compared to the past 4 years of hard work at Nova Southeastern University. I attended commencement a few weeks ago and I’m still taken back that I’m now a DO – a reality that I couldn’t fathom when I first started on this journey.

    Coming into this position, I have had the time to really reflect on my experiences both as a physician-in-training and as an AMSA member. I have been a member since my first year as a premedical student, not really knowing how I could get my head out of the books and engage in something other than my studies. Joining AMSA and meeting other students like me and having the opportunity to do lobby days and other events really opened my eyes to all that students can do to advocate for themselves and for their future patients. The years that you spend in medical school go by so quickly and you come out of it a different person than when you started. They were probably some of the toughest years of my life but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. These experiences make you stronger and you come out of it with friendships that will last a lifetime because of all that you have gone through together. I mean, when you are eating mac and cheese out of a cardboard container at 1am, desperately trying to come up with acronyms for obscure disease processes, you become close with your fellow classmates. My point is that as physicians-in-training, enjoy the limited time that you have as students. Open yourself up to a world outside of books, meet new students from around the country, and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourselves and future patients now. I was able to do this through AMSA and I believe that all students should engage in any way that they find meaningful.

    With that in mind, I am very excited about our upcoming events! We have our Chapter Officer Recruitment and Engagement (CORE) training coming up at the end of July. This will be the first time we are hosting Chapter Officer training completely virtually, so I expect to see all of you new Chapter Officers to participate! We are also in the works are our two Fall Conferences on global health and changing the culture of medicine. These are the perfect opportunities for you to get involved and learn how to be an empowered student. If you have any questions about these opportunities, just ask! My e-mail is

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  • Medical Student Leaders: What You Need to Know to be an Effective Agent of Change at Your Medical School

    Written by Stephen R. Smith, MD, MPH, Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and founding member of the National Physicians Alliance.

    How can you be an effective change agent at your medical school?

    First of all, don’t underestimate yourself. Students have a tremendous potential to bring about change in a medical school, but often don’t realize it. Whenever a delegation of medical students asked to meet with the dean at Brown, I immediately got a summons from the dean to tell him what was going on. Deans meet with faculty day in and day out and it never fazes them. But when a group of students meet with the dean, it sends the dean’s office into a tizzy.

    I used the words delegation of students. It’s much better to go in with one or two other medical students. Alone, you’re “a” student. When it’s two or three of you, suddenly you become “the” students. Here are some strategies to bring about the change you want to see at your medical school:

    1. Don’t underestimate how much power and influence medical students can have, individually and collectively through the American Medical Student Association (AMSA)

    2. Effective ways to approach your dean:

    - Send email briefly laying out reasons for wanting a meeting
    - Go as a “delegation” of 2–3 students
    - Honor the culture of the med school, then explain why change is needed
    - Focus on professionalism
    - Use real examples of problem areas with conflict of interest (COI)
    - Point out how other peer med schools have stronger policies
    - Be familiar with the process used to develop and approve policies
    - Ask the dean to refer these issues to the appropriate policy-making group
    - Ask the dean to invite your delegation to that group to present and discuss
    - Follow-up with a thank-you email to the dean, publicize the meeting outcome

    3. Tactics at the policy-setting committee level:

    - Reiterate the arguments presented to the dean
    - Bring copies of policies at peer institutions
    - Get a subcommittee formed with student representation to further delve into the issues, draft new policies, and make recommendations to the full committee
    - Create a grid showing model policies and comparing your school’s policies to them and present this at the subcommittee meeting - Bring authoritative materials (e.g., AAMC Task Force Report, Pew Expert Panel recommendations to the subcommittee)
    - Distribute the toolkit from Community Catalyst relating to the policy area under consideration to the subcommittee members
    - Be present when the subcommittee makes its report to the full committee, thank the subcommittee for striving to safeguard integrity and promote professionalism and how proud you are to be a part of that process

    The most difficult and most important part of the process is taking the first step. That’s what leadership is all about. That’s why you’re reading this today. You are the leaders. You can do it. I’m sure.

    This piece was presented during the NPA’s March 2014 National Grand Rounds, “Agents of Change: Empowering Students to be Leaders in Conflict of Interest Policy Reform,” at the AMSA Convention in New Orleans. The webcast recording is available here along with full National Grand Rounds Series Archive. These events are offered as part of the Partnership to Advance Conflict-free Medical Education (PACME). This partnership and related materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin.

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  • Activism and Advocacy: How Medical Students at the 1969 AMSA Convention Changed the History of Healthcare Advocacy in the United States

    Written by Stephen R. Smith, MD, MPH, Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and founding member of the National Physicians Alliance. NPA is a close ally with AMSA and is where medical students will find an inspiring professional home after graduating from medical school. For more information, please visit

    The first American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Convention I attended—it was actually called Student American Medical Association (SAMA) back then—was in 1969. It was an amazing time. The organization had just recently completely dissociated itself with the American Medical Association (AMA), fired the previous executive director, asserted the pre-eminence of student leadership in the organization’s operations, and set a new, progressive course for the group.

    I came into that convention with a crazy idea to create a domestic Peace Corps for doctors where they could meet their military draft obligations by practicing in underserved communities in the United States through the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service. I took the idea to the House of Delegates of SAMA where it passed by an over 2/3 majority as Resolution 4A. Working with two other med students, Chip Avery and Brian Biles, we got Brian’s Congressman, Rep. William Roy, himself a physician, to sponsor a bill in the House that would eventually be signed into law by President Nixon establishing the National Health Service Corps.

    I tell that story to make a few points about student activism and advocacy. First of all, I want to be sure you all know what an amazing organization AMSA is. If you ever read the Dance of Legislation—a book about the creation of the National Health Service Corps, written by Eric Redman, a staffer to Senator Warren Magnuson—you’ll see how much the voice of medical students through SAMA mattered. It still does.

    Second, I want to emphasize how much you, as an individual, can also do. I was only a 1st-year medical student when I introduced my resolution to the House of Delegates. But don’t be a lone wolf, either. You need collaborators and allies. If it wasn’t for Brian Biles and Chip Avery, my resolution wouldn’t have gone any further.

    Last, treasure the personal connections you’ll make in your journey of activism. I’m still connected with many of my former SAMA colleagues—what we now call OATS—“Old AMSA Types”—through the National Physicians Alliance, which is where medical students will find an inspiring professional home after graduating from medical school.

    This piece was presented during the NPA’s March 2014 National Grand Rounds, “Agents of Change: Empowering Students to be Leaders in Conflict of Interest Policy Reform,” at the AMSA Convention in New Orleans. The webcast recording is available here along with full National Grand Rounds Series Archive. These events are offered as part of the Partnership to Advance Conflict-free Medical Education (PACME). This partnership and related materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin.

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  • An Open Letter to Future Physicians

    by Mailet Lopez, Founder/CEO of

    Dear Future Physicians,

    You will be the most important person in the world to her.

    You will be the last thing she thinks about when she goes to sleep and the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up. She will cry about what you tell her, and dream about what she wanted you to say instead. She will be angry when you don’t listen to her and furious when you don’t call when you say you will. She probably won’t tell you how much you mean to her and how she hangs on every word you say, because she most likely won’t realize it herself. She’ll hear about other relationships and may wish that yours was more like the others – and when you break up, she will be thrilled. To be honest, she may never want to have to see you again.

    You can probably handle that – we’ve all dealt with breakups before. The only difference this time is that it won’t happen just once. It’s going to happen hundreds – maybe thousands –of times, for the rest of your life. Maybe even multiple times a day.

    Why? Because this is the responsibility that you bear as a physician. You may deliver the news of pregnancy, or you may deliver the news of death. You may be the very first person to tell someone that they have stage four cancer or the very first person to tell them that they have entered remission. No matter what type of physician you may be, and what type of news you are delivering, you become the single most important person in the world to your patients because you are there at the start of their journey, you are at the helm of their survival.

    I speak from experience – not as a doctor, but as a cancer survivor. I was “her”– a stage 2 breast cancer patient – and as soon as I heard the words “you have cancer,” my surgeon became one of the most important people in the world to me (although I had no idea at the time). I longed for him to tell me the words that many of us fighters often dream of – “the cancer is gone.” I was the definition of an empowered patient, and, unfortunately, my doctor didn’t trust me. He doubted the information that I came to him with, and I could tell in the way that he spoke to me that he thought I was “wrong” and it wouldn’t work. Six years later, and here I am - healthy and committed to sharing my story.

    My negative experience with my doctor shouldn’t disappoint you or scare you, it should empower you. You will have an undeniable impact on so many lives, which, for many of you, is why you decided to go into this field in the first place.

    Last month, my team and I attended the American Medical Student Association’s annual convention, where I introduced my website,, to future physicians. These students opened my eyes to what the future of the doctor-patient relationship will look like. The time I spent with them reassured me that the next wave of doctors are better armed than many practicing physicians today. Through my conversations with them, we were able to narrow down a few tips that can better equip future physicians for the human side of a clinical diagnosis:

    1) Communicate Effectively – As the face of the diagnosis, your words are extremely powerful. Using words like “us” and “we” can show your patients that you are on their team and that they are not alone from the very beginning. While you are still in school, practice delivering a diagnosis with your peers and help each other figure out exactly what, and how, to deliver life-changing news.

    2) Understand the Empowered Patient – Being an empowered patient is easier than ever now, with sites like IHadCancer making it extremely simple for survivors, fighters and supporters to connect with exactly the type of person they are looking for. Your patients will come in prepared with questions, comments, concerns and ideas. When this happens to you, remember that this information-sharing is not happening to spite you as the doctor — there is a certain sense of assurance that only someone who has been through it can provide for a patient. They are coming to you with this information to help you beat cancer together as a team, not to go against your recommendations.

    3) Take Advantage of Technology – Technology and medicine have always gone hand-in-hand. You may know about the latest advances in treatment and trials, but there are simpler technologies that are also extremely powerful. Find resources that you trust so that you can provide your patients with a “first step,” instead of sending them out of your office and into the scary world of Google and WebmD. Whether It’s or something else, if you give them somewhere to start, they will be more empowered throughout their journey and immediately realize that they are not alone.

    4) Put Yourself In The Patient’s Shoes – If it was your life on the line, would you choose the treatment options that you are recommending? Some patients may ask you that question, or want you to think of them as your significant other, child, parent, etc. Be prepared to hear these sorts of questions and do your best to give an honest answer.

    If you master each of these concepts, you will be better armed than any MCAT score, medical school acceptance or school professor may have you believe. The empowered patient movement is here, and isn’t going anywhere, but right now you have the power to lead the new wave of empowered doctors.

    How else can you be prepared for the doctor-patient relationship? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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