Recap: December Advocacy Panel: From medical student to physician advocate

Our end-of-the-year advocacy panel was a success! On Monday, December 2nd, Dr. Curry moderated an advocacy panel of fellow physician advocates Dr. Gaeta, Dr. Rattan, and Dr. Walley. All three shared their thoughts about what advocacy means to them, about what doing advocacy means in their daily practice and life, and about how they got to the point they are at today as it relates to advocacy. They also shared their thoughts about how one can balance life, work, and advocacy.

On advocacy

Advocacy is a broad term that may mean different things to different people but, in the end, as medical students and physicians, we are intimately bound to advocate for our individual patients because diseases do not occur in a vacuum, but rather in intricate sociocultural contexts. Advocacy, thus, starts in the clinic by being aware of and identifying the non-biological determinants of health, and acting upon these determinants –this may be done at the patient level, or at the broader local, national, or international levels.

 On the importance of picking our battles if we aim to effect broader change

The world is full of problems that we as individuals will never be able to solve despite all of our good intentions and frustrations about these problems. But the fact that we fundamentally cannot save the world does not mean that we should give up changing anything. Where, then, should we start? To find our way as an advocate, the most important thing is for us to pick our battles. How? By finding an issue that makes us feel uncomfortable, an issue that we cannot rationalize, an issue that has a special meaning to us.

On how advocacy entails cooperation

Once one has identified his/her issue, one needs to start taking action. Because we all have limited knowledge, skills, and time taking action may seem overwhelming at first. Where should we start?! As was mentioned during the panel, changes are not effected by individuals, but rather by groups of individuals with different, complementary skills who work together towards a common goal. What does this mean? It means that, to be successful advocates, we should work hand in hand with people from other backgrounds who have the same vision as us, and skills complementary to ours.

On how to balance work, advocacy, and personal life

Medical students and physicians certainly do not have much free time on their hands, and thus the prospect of adding an advocacy piece to their life outside of school/their practice can seem daunting. Is there a solution to this? The idea that was mentioned in the panel is that life is a dynamic balance, and that being a physician advocate is just one of the many items that add to the balance. While the balance will sometimes tilt towards the “work + advocacy” side, it will tilt towards the “personal life” side at other times. Finding our most fulfilling dynamic is then what will allow us to find our ultimate balance between work, advocacy, and personal life.

On our privileged position as medical students and physicians

Medical students and physicians have a privileged position to effect change at the societal level because they have access to institutions, lawmakers, and money –among other resources, and simply by virtue of their position in the society. Realizing the unique potential that we have to effect change and taking advantage of this privileged position is key to our success as advocates.

A take-home message for medical students?

The “but… we’re only med students” reasoning that some of us have internalized and that may keep us from undertaking bold advocacy endeavors has no rational grounds: advocacy is intrinsically linked to our career path, and BUSM is full of opportunities to start advocating… now!

**Do not hesitate to email us at if you have any question, or if you would like to do advocacy but don’t know where to start!**

Juliette Flam, BUSM, buATP

Upcoming Events Around Boston

·         New! December 12: Webinar: Improving Quality & Safety for Diverse Populations: An Innovative Interprofessional Curriculum. 12-1pm. Education for medical and nursing students on strategies to improve quality, address disparities, and achieve equity will be essential in a time of rapid healthcare system change. The Disparities Solutions Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and the MGH Institute of Health Professions are hosting this webinar in an effort to provide the latest tools and guidance on these efforts. The webinar will highlight the development and implementation of an innovative, interprofessional curriculum for medical and nursing students. Visit to register and for more information.
·         December 13: Harvard Global Health Institute Talk: An Informal Conversation with Sophie Delaunay. 12:00-1:30 pm. Harvard Global Health Institute, 104 Mt Auburn Street, 3rd Floor, Cambridge. Ms. Delaunay, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, will discuss the role of an international humanitarian aid organization in the chemical weapons debate in Syria.
·         December 16: “Working with Faith-Based Organizations to Provide Cancer Control Interventions for Underserved Latinos” by Jennifer Allen PhD, Tufts University. 12:30PM. HSPH, Kresge G3. The goal of the study was to develop and test an organizational-level intervention to enable faith-based organizations (FBOs) to adopt, adapt, implement and sustain evidence-based interventions (EBls) to address cancer disparities among Latinos.
·         December 19: Good Spirits and Strong Bodies:  Mental Health Treatment in Syria 1903-1961. 4:00-5:30pm, Ballard Room, fifth floor, Countway Library of Medicine. Speaker: Beverly Tsacoyianis, Assistant Professor of History, University of Memphis; Doctoral Candidate, Washington University in St. Louis. For further information contact David G. Satin, M.D., Colloquium Director, phone/fax 617-332-0032, CHoM Web:

What are your plans for this summer? Are you looking for a unique global health experience?

If so, the 3-week course “Beyond the Biological Basis for Disease” offered by Physicians for Haiti and taking place in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, may be the perfect fit for you! Below are the course objectives, eligibility criteria, and application process. These and all that you need to know about the course can be found by clicking this link to the handout.

Course Objectives

1.   To promote international solidarity and partnership for generating solutions to global health challenges facing societies throughout the world

2.  To foster reflective dialogue between Haitian and international medical students as a means of strengthening ties between the next generation of Haitian health professionals and a global network of their peers.

3.   To provide a structured global health experience for medical students with dedicated supervision and teaching in clinical medicine and social medicine

4.   To study issues related to global health in a resource-poor setting with an emphasis on local and global context

5.   To foster critical analysis of global health interventions in resource-poor settings

6.   To facilitate the development of a clinical approach to disease and illness using a biosocial model through structured supervision and teaching

7.   To build an understanding and skill set associated with physician advocacy

Eligibility criteria for applicants

  • Medical student of any year
  • Fluent in French
  • Available for the entire length of the course (July 14-August 1, 2014)

Application Process

Applications are due January 15, 2014.

Credit for away electives can usually be arranged with a student’s home institution.

**To complete an application or for more information, please visit or**

Recap: October/November Grand Rounds: What doctors should know about the SNAP/Food Stamp Program

Our October/November Grand Rounds focused on the SNAP/Food Stamp program. Victoria Negus, an AmeriCorps serving at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, gave a talk about the basics of SNAP/Food Stamp eligibility, the application process, common myths surrounding the program, and the role of health care professionals in fighting hunger in Massachusetts.

Her take-home message for medical students and physicians? SNAP is a key component in gaining access to healthy, nutritious food, and it has been shown to have a positive impact on the health of families and individuals –a fact that is especially important to emphasize in light of the recent ARRA cuts. While SNAP is a complex program whose eligibility is based on many criteria, in the end it boils down to consistently asking low-income patients if they receive SNAP. If they do not, they should then be referred to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), Project Bread, or outreach partners.

Please refer to the very helpful, straightforward, and Massachusetts-specific handbook Hunger in the Community – Ways Hospitals can Help for more details about the different ways in which you can help patients get nutritional support.

And here are other resources that Victoria Negus shared… and that we would now like to share with you!

1. Resources for the medical community

a) Project Bread:

 The Food Source Hotline: 1-800-645-8333

**Patients can call this number to be screened for SNAP eligibility**

b) Children’s Health Watch:

The SNAP Vaccine—Boosting Children’s Health

2. General resources

a) 2013 SNAP Advocacy Guide

b) Online resources: and

c) Food SNAP Coalition: listserv and monthly meetings in Boston –email Victoria Negus at if you are interested!

d) MCLE Basic Benefits Trainings: Thursday, February 6, 2014, 9:30am – 12:15pm

e) Food Stamps/SNAP client screening through Project Bread:


**Again, if you would like to receive email updates about SNAP from the MA SNAP Coalition, email Victoria Negus at and she will add you to the listserv. Also do not hesitate to contact her if you have any question about the SNAP program!**

Juliette Flam, BUSM, buATP