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.