Student advocacy

Students and health policy: The importance of getting involved and where to start

Osteopathic medical students have a variety of opportunities available to them when it comes to participating in and influencing the health care policies that will directly impact their future patients.


As I reflect on my medical school journey, I have realized that politics can play a significant role in health care and the medical profession. Whether it’s reproductive rights or climate change, politics shape how we care for our patients. When medical students and physicians have a comprehensive understanding of our health care system and a robust knowledge of health policy, they are well-positioned to participate in the process of creating and shaping health care policy, which often directly impacts physicians’ day-to-day practice of medicine.

I became interested in the intersection of politics and health care during my first year of medical school, and I started a health policy interest group. Through this group, we were able to have discussions with club members about U.S. health care that bettered our understanding of the circumstances our patients face in medicine.

As a second-year medical student, I joined the Washington Academy of Family Physicians (WAFP) and the Washington Osteopathic Medical Association (WOMA). Through these associations, I was able to directly work with legislators and advocate for policies that affect physicians, students and the osteopathic profession. Now, in my third year, I serve as the student trustee for the WAFP, helping to advance family medicine interests in the state of Washington.

Medical students have a unique perspective on the health care system, as they are learning about the intricacies of patient care along with the broader social and economic factors that impact health outcomes. This perspective is invaluable in shaping health policy; medical students who get involved in health policy can make a real difference in the lives of patients and communities.

Here are just some of the reasons it is beneficial for med students to get involved in health policy:

  1. Advocating for patients: Considering what they have learned in medical school, medical students are well-positioned to advocate for policies that will improve access to care and health outcomes.
  2. Addressing social determinants of health: Medical students learn about social determinants of health, which are the social, economic and environmental factors that impact health outcomes. These determinants play a significant role in health disparities; medical students who get involved in health policy can work to address these disparities by advocating for policies that address the root causes of poor health outcomes.
  3. Shaping the future of health care: By participating in policymaking, medical students can help create a health care system that is more patient-centered, equitable and efficient.
  4. Gaining real-world experience: Med students who get involved in health policy gain real-world experience that can be valuable throughout their careers. They learn how policies are created, implemented and evaluated, while also gaining skills in communication, advocacy and leadership.
  5. Making a difference: When medical students advocate for policies that become law, they are able to see the tangible results of their advocacy efforts. And even when they advocate for policies that are not signed into law, they are still providing valuable education to lawmakers.

How to get involved

The best way to pursue advocacy is to first determine what level of politics you would like to be involved in: local, state and/or federal. For example, I wanted to begin with state-level policy and thus chose to attend the WAFP and WOMA advocacy days at the Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. During these advocacy days, I spoke to my state senators and representatives about important legislation that would improve the delivery of primary care. Among other legislation, we advocated for HB 1357, a bill that would modernize the prior authorization process for primary care providers (PCPs), which was signed into law on May 9, 2023.

Getting involved with national medical associations like the AOA and the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) is a great way to help shape health care policy. These organizations provide ample opportunities for students to collectively leverage their voices to influence the legislative process. One of the best opportunities to do this occurs annually: the AOA’s DO Day conference in Washington, DC, in which DOs and osteopathic medical students educate members of Congress about the osteopathic medical profession and current legislation that would positively impact health care. DO Day 2024 takes place on April 13-14 (virtual conferences) and April 17-18, 2024 (in-person congressional meetings). You can also join the AOA’s Osteopathic Advocacy Network to help build and foster relationships with your lawmakers.

Here are some more ways to get involved with health policy in medical school:

  1. Join your state’s osteopathic medical association: Getting involved with your state’s chapter allows you to gain a better understanding of pertinent issues affecting local physicians and patients.
  2. Start a health policy interest group: Many medical school faculty like mine have vast experience in the political sector. By starting an interest group, you can further educate yourself on issues that you are passionate about.
  3. Become a member of SOMA: SOMA is a governing body for osteopathic medical students. With SOMA, you can write resolutions for the AOA House of Delegates to consider adopting as official AOA policy. You can also serve as a representative for medical students.
  4. Get involved with the Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP): COSGP is another governing body for DO students. You can learn more about advocacy opportunities with COSGP on the AACOM website.
  5. Apply to become a member of Omega Beta Iota (OBI): OBI is the national osteopathic political honor society, which was founded in 2007 to help highlight and emphasize the important services that osteopathic medical students provide to the U.S. political system.

Change can start with you

As discussed, there are so many benefits to participating in advocacy as a medical student, and one of the most valuable is the opportunity to create positive change in the health care system. The more osteopathic medical students get involved with advocacy, the more we can make a difference in the lives of patients and health care professionals.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Being a mom in med school: How I make it work 

Learning anatomy in med school: Is it still necessary to work with cadavers?

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