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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any question, or if you would like to do advocacy but don’t know where to start!**
Juliette Flam, BUSM, buATP