By Molly Zielenbach
AMSA State and Local Policy Coordinator
There’s an eerie similarity between election season and studying for med school exams. At the beginning, you’re in denial – plagued by memories of the stress, outrage, futility, and hopelessness you felt the last time, you pretend like election/test day isn’t staring at you from a distant but rapidly approaching future. Finally, though, something tips the scale and you begin to prepare. You pour your attention into diagrams, charts, “expert” testimonies (from pundits or your ever-wise classmates), and maybe you even start to care about the results. Then, as the day draws closer, you hit a wall. You’re in information overload. You just can’t care anymore.
So how do you get through the wall? For me, the answer is the same in both cases – I find something to keep me inspired. In the case of my impending cardio exam, it’s the joy in finally knowing why they’re always shouting “push more epi!” on Gray’s Anatomy (hey, whatever works, right?). In the case of the upcoming presidential election, it’s remembering that voting is a hard-won right, and a right that too many people in our society still have to fight for.
A large body of evidence tells us that social determinants of health – things like stable housing, clean air, safe neighborhoods, quality schools, access to healthy and affordable food, and good jobs – are the most important determinants of the diseases that bring us patients, and the effectiveness of our treatments. So what determines the social determinants? A major player is the history of discriminatory and unjust laws, policies, and budgets that have marginalized and disenfranchised huge segments of our country’s population, thereby directly and indirectly jeopardizing their health and wellbeing.
By voting, we can put pressure on policymakers, both local and national, to promote the health and welfare of our communities. By standing up for voters’ rights and providing voter registration to disenfranchised communities, we amplify the voices of our patients and support them in advocating for their own health and welfare. So, here are a few simple steps we, as medical students and AMSA chapters, can take to promote health and justice for all:
1) Educate yourself, not just on the Presidential candidates, but on local candidates and policies also being decided on election day. Have your AMSA chapter host an event in the next month on a policy issue that will be affected by the election (keep in mind that AMSA is non-partisan so events should not endorse any specific candidates). And, most importantly, go vote!
2) Sign this petition sponsored by RxDemocracy! and the National Physicians Alliance to defend our communities from voter rights infringement. Check out rxdemocracy.org for more information on the link between health and civic engagement.
3) Host a community voter registration drive at your hospital. This is much easier than it sounds, and depending on where your school is, AMSA’s policy team can connect you with local organizations that may already be doing it. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re interested!
4) If you live in a state where restrictive voting policies are being enacted or contested, organize your fellow medical students and take a stand! This includes PA, TN, FL, OH, VA, and many others. Get in touch with AMSA’s policy team for more information on how to make your voice heard (again, email@example.com).
So get out there and make a difference, for yourself and your patients!