Physicians are powerful advocates. They use their voices to become involved with the legislative process and medical students can too.
The General Assembly (Lower House+Upper Senate) of Rhode Island is only in session from January to July; that is when bills and laws will be proposed/passed and when you'll make any progress at the state level. If you already know of a bill that you strongly wish to support or defeat, you have a couple of options: you could testify at a committee hearing , write to a committee member, or call your legislator's staff.
View the legislative Committee Calendars page in order to see when and where committee hearings are held and what will be discussed at each hearing. Each agenda will also say if testimony will be heard since the meetings are open to the public. You can participate in the hearing by speaking or submitting written testimony. In order to pursue either of those options, you need to sign-up with forms that are available in the hearing room.
Calling to speak to legislators' staff would also be a great bet, but be sure to do your research ahead of time. Always provide context for why your contact is important to them: they care about your issue, they represent you (i.e. you vote them into office), there is similar legislation elsewhere, etc. Legislative staff can provide background information, set up meetings, and in general may be much more effective than emailing the legislator directly. Follow up every 2 days until you receive a response.
To research legislature, head to the Legislative Information page on the GA's website. There, pay special attention to the following sections:
To be alerted when a particular bill is scheduled for hearing or consideration, use the Bill Tracker (you'll have to make an account) and enter the bill numbers you want to be alerted for.
Later on this academic year, Citizen Physicians will host workshops on how to effectively testify at committee hearings and how to write a meaningful letter to committee members to ensure your voice is heard. We'll be sure to write up blog summaries of those events as well.
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This blog post contains information from Steve DeToy, Rhode Island Medical Society (RIMS) Director of Government and Public Affairs. Thank you Steve!
This blog post also contains information adapted from Emily Flower's presentation to students at the Alpert Medical School. Emily Flower is a volunteer with Generation Citizen. Thank you Emily!
James Tanch, a medical student at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Director of Technology and Blog Editor for Citizen Physicians
This article was published in Brown Medicine Magazine Fall 2015 issue.
Author: Josephine Benson, Brown '17
When Aaron Shapiro MD ’18 moved to Providence before his first year at Alpert Medical School, he did many of the usual things: unpacked, learned the streets, changed his official state of residency. When he realized a local election was fast approaching, Shapiro registered to vote, read up on the issues, and set up a meeting with his representative to clarify details.
Shapiro grew up in Washington, DC, and says that although he was only peripherally involved in politics there, he tried to be informed and form relationships with his local elected officials. So he says he was “shocked” by how little people outside of the nation’s capital engage in politics. “Political speakers were always around me growing up, and I don’t think I realized … until I moved out of DC that most people don’t talk about politics with their local elected officials,” Shapiro says. “And that didn’t sit well with me.”
His culture shock led him to found an organization, Citizen Physicians, with 15 other medical students. “[Citizen Physicians] is nonissue-based and nonpartisan,” Shapiro says. “We want to get future health care providers more engaged in politics and more competent and comfortable in engaging in politics.”Citizen Physicians has hosted several events, including a “nuts and bolts” training on the basics of civic engagement, a lecture by state Sen. Chris Ottiano on the importance of doctor participation in politics, and a meet and greet that was attended by numerous political staffers and community members, 43 medical students, and 12 Rhode Island elected officials, including Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. “I expected politicians to show up, shake a few hands, stay for five minutes, and then leave, but a lot of people stayed the full two hours,” Shapiro says.
The group also aims to increase voter registration, and provides voter registration cards at most events. At the orientation for new medical students in August, Citizen Physicians helped 24 of Providence’s newest residents register to vote. “Even if we’re only here for the four years that we’re in medical school, we’re here now, so we should be engaged in what’s happening now,” Shapiro says.
“It’s really beneficial that Rhode Island is a small state, so that everyone has the ability to engage in these processes,” he adds. “It’s just a matter of making sure that everyone knows how to access [their elected officials]so that they can actually effect change.”
Originally posted 10/19/2015
I’m thrilled today to announce that Citizen Physicians is growing! Less than one year after our inception, we are adding our first new medical school chapter: Harvard Medical School (HMS).
Andreas Mitchell, a third year medical student at HMS will be laying the foundation for a new chapter of Citizen Physicians as the chapter’s inaugural president. We are thrilled to welcome him and his classmates to the Citizen Physicians community and look forward to the programming they will begin implementing next academic year.
“It's exciting to join Citizen Physicians in the early stages of what I believe will become a much larger movement to engage medical professionals in their communities. We look forward to extending the great work done by Citizen Physicians at Brown to promote civic engagement at HMS and grow the regional community of civically active students and physicians. Our patients' health, as well as our own, is affected by policy decisions that are happening before our eyes. With the new Citizen Physicians chapter, we look forward to exploring and acting on the responsibilities that come with this reality.”
I’m also proud to announce that Brown’s chapter of Citizen Physicians has recently transitioned leadership to extraordinary first year students! Shayla Minteer and Yao Liu will be leading Citizen Physicians programming at Brown as co-presidents. Alan Siero and James Tanch will be leading resource development and our online presence. Margie Thorson and Noah Lubin will be leading our outreach and engagement initiatives.
I am both appreciate for and inspired by all of the passionate future doctors who are stepping up to better our healthcare community through individual civic engagement.
If you would like to follow our growth, please keep up to date on our blog, subscribe to our informative monthly email digest, like us on facebook, and follow us on twitter. If you are interested in starting a chapter of Citizen Physicians at your medical school or have any questions about our start-up organization, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Aaron Shapiro, Founder and Executive Director
Originally posted 9/14/2015
Citizen Physicians is a start-up non-profit with a non-partisan, non-issue-based mission to train future healthcare providers in effective civic engagement.
Our goals are to:
Be the Rock the Vote of the medical community, increasing voter registration, engagement with locally elected officials, and voter turnout,
Build the movement for physician involvement in policies that impact how we practice, and
Teach future healthcare providers how to engage effectively as individual citizens in the political arena.
We are looking for passionate, dedicated student leaders excited by our mission of training medical students to engage more effectively in political processes, students who are excited by joining the initial stages of a start-up non-profit, and communicative students who are excited to work collaboratively with students at other medical schools to share ideas and build programs together.
If this sounds like an initiative you would like to bring to your campus, please check out the application page here. Please also distribute this call for applications to any healthcare students you know who might forward this initiative on to their class listservs.
If you have any questions about Citizen Physicians or the application process, please don't hesitate to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.
Originally posted 9/11/2015
In March 2015, Citizen Physicians hosted Emily Flower, a volunteer with Generation Citizen to teach a workshop about civic engagement to the medical students of Alpert Medical School. After laying down some foundational civic knowledge, she went on to point out some of the tools that are available to us as citizens and explained several strategies for how to effectively communicate with and engage members of the local government.
Civics and Bureaucracy 101
In order to engage or affect change in the government, we first have to know how it functions. The two main branches that are pervious to our influence are the executive branch (i.e. mayor, governor) and the legislative branch (i.e. city council, state legislature). The third, the judicial branch, is not accessible to us.
The executive branch executes/ enforces the law; it proposes yearly budgets, runs departments, and spends money (city: mayor, state: governor, federal: president).
The legislative branch creates the law; it approves budgets, creates departments, and makes multi-year changes (city: city council, state: state legislature, federal: congress).
States governments are responsible for social services such as healthcare, education, and transportation. They are responsible for annual matters, like taxes and elections. Conversely, city governments are responsible for daily life and local services such as trash pickup, utilities, safety/fire, and road maintenance. Here, we use Providence as an example to examine the structure of local government. The following is a slide from Emily's presentation.
City Council and the creation of city laws
In Providence, there are 15 city councilors representing the 15 wards/neighborhoods that compose the City Council. Their job is to create laws. Here's how they do it.
An ordinance is sponsored by at least 1 councilor
The ordinance is proposed to Council
The ordinance is referred to a 5-councilor committee*
Once the ordinance passes committee, the ordinance is put to a vote, where 8 out of 15 votes are required to pass
The mayor must then sign the ordinance into law. If he does not sign and thus vetoes, it is returned to Council, where 10 votes can override the mayor's veto and pass it into law.
*If the resolution/ordinance is not passed out of committee by the last day of the legislative session (in July), it will "die" in committee.
This is essentially how laws are created at the state level as well. In the RI General Assembly (House+Senate), there are 75 representatives in the lower House of Representatives and 39 senators in the upper Senate. 38 votes are required to pass a bill, and 50 votes are required to override a veto from the governor.
Let's dig in. How do I interact with my local government?
For one-time issues in your city. For issues such as potholes, streetlights, neighborhood noise, missed trash days, there is an online system called ProvConnex to provide direct feedback from the city's homepage. There's also an iPhone/Android app to submit issues as well. I suggest going to the website and clicking around to see what they have to offer there. If you don't do it now, you probably never will! For an example, here are a couple of slides from Emily's slideshow that pointed out how to navigate from the homepage to request a pothole be filled.
For ongoing issues at the city level. Where an ordinance or resolution might be required to address your issue, it's time to work with the City Council. Before you begin, you should research your topic for relevant ordinances by searching the city's municipal code. The code is kept at the City Clerk office's website. I provided the link directly to the municipal code, but the City Clerk's office is responsible for keeping all official documents, calendars, keeping track of who is on which committee and when the meetings are, so their website is a good resource. Next, you can contact your councilperson about your issue. Councilors will be much, much more likely to listen to you and work for you if you are someone who can vote for them. To find out who your councilperson is, visit the City Council's website. You can call (401-521-7477) and email the Council's office to speak with researchers and staff. To email the entire city council, email email@example.com. Follow up every 2 days via email and phone until you hear a response. City Council meetings are held on the evenings of the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month except during summer recess.
Thanks again to Generation Citizen and Emily Flower. In a following post, we will discuss how to open the door to interacting with your state government. Stay tuned!
James Tanch, a medical student at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the Director of Technology and Blog Editor for Citizen Physicians
Originally posted 9/7/2015
Starting medical school is intimidating. I remember worrying that somehow I’d show up for my first day already behind. I remember worrying about making friends. I remember worrying that I wouldn’t have enough time to get sufficient background information on the upcoming ballot referenda to make an educated decision on how to vote during the November election.
Okay. I know that that last one isn’t on everyone’s mind as they’re about to start medical school, but I’m from the D.C. area: politics is my bread and butter. But it wasn’t always.
My first real exposure to government was when I interned for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) during college. At some point during that experience -- I can’t remember exactly when the lightning bolt hit -- I realized that “government” was just a bunch of human beings who were given the authority to make decisions. And I realized that “policy” was just the decisions that those human beings made. I know that that is a gross over simplification, but before this eureka moment, government to me was simply large, intimidating, enigmatic, and inaccessible.
I quickly learned that the humans in government have a lot of power over my life, but I am the one who gives them that power. We vote them into office to represent us and we can vote them out of office if we’re not happy with them. When I called my State Senator for the first time, he picked up the phone directly. When I saw him on election day at my polling center, I reintroduced myself as his constituent. I could tell that he knew that I could either vote him out of office or I could encourage all my family and friends to keep him as our representative. He cared what I had to say because I had the power to vote him in or out of a job.
I moved to Providence, Rhode Island for medical school three months before election day 2014. The evening after my parents dropped me off, I attended a community gubernatorial forum. The next day I got a tour of Rhode Island’s State House and registered to vote right then and there. Once I got confirmation of my voter registration, I emailed my State Representative asking if he had some time to answer a few questions I had about the upcoming ballot referenda. I personally know how dramatically one ballot initiative has impacted my own life, so I have a great appreciation for how dramatically any of those upcoming ballot initiatives may impact the lives of others. Not only did my State Representative make time for me, but he invited me to meet over coffee so we could have a proper conversation. When I tell that story to friends, they’re often surprised that my local representative made time for me. But that’s the beauty of local politics: those humans in government really are accessible.
I know that “register to vote” isn’t on the top of every new medical student’s to-do list when there are so many seemingly more critical things to do as the intimidation of our first day of classes comes closer. But at the end of these four years, we’ll have an “M.D.” at the end of our names. And with those two letters comes both power and responsibility.
We medical students have a proud history of advocating on behalf of their patients. And one day we may need to testify at a State House to provide expertise on specific healthcare issues. But the training needed to affect real change on a policy level is sparsely addressed in medical education.
Citizen Physicians is not here to push any agenda or advocate for any specific issue. We are here because there was no voter registration table at my class’ new student orientation. We are here for every future healthcare providers when they realize that our jobs don’t always end when we sign off on a prescription. We are here because no one is exempt from civic engagement. And we are here to make sure that all future healthcare providers know how to effectively utilize their power as a citizen physician.
We are here to help build the movement to get healthcare practitioners involved in civic engagement. We hope this blog allows you to follow our journey and join us. We hope you enjoy and we hope you engage.