Much of my leadership and medical advocacy work in medical school has been focused on two specific issues: increased awareness of LGBTQ+ healthcare needs and health care reform. In my first year of medical school, I was convinced that addressing these issues on a local level was the most effective approach to achieving real-world impact. I thought that making small, incremental change was the way to demonstrate effectiveness and build support for these ideas, before pursuing any kind of broader change. So I joined organizations on campus that were committed to this work and set about trying to make a difference.
Implementing LGBTG+ Healthcare Programs
As a member of “Pride,” the organization at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of Midwestern University (CCOM/MWU) committed to supporting and advocating on behalf of LGBTQ+ students, I worked to implement a university-wide elective about LGBTQ+ healthcare topics. I also participated in launching the first “Safe Zone” workshops at CCOM/MWU. These programs were both successful and impactful. We held the first ever “LGBTQI Considerations in the Provision of Health Care” elective, in which more than 40 students enrolled. Participants learned about everything from media portrayal of LGBTQ+ people throughout history, to specific health care disparities faced by LGBTQ+ people today.
Throughout the quarter, participants engaged in interactive sessions and role-play activities to help them develop greater comfort in working with and treating LGBTQ+ people. Separately, we held several Safe Zone workshops throughout the year with students, faculty, and staff, and we received incredibly positive feedback from participants. Many appreciated the opportunity to ask tough or uncomfortable questions, and others appreciated having the opportunity to think about issues surrounding gender and sexuality from a new perspective. However, it became clear to me that there was no guarantee that any of these programs would continue after I was gone. There was no institutional infrastructure to support these programs over the long term, and there was not enough institutional interest in investing in them.
As a part of “Health Care for All,” the organization at CCOM/MWU dedicated to advocacy for single-payer health care, I gave presentations about single-payer health care, brought in speakers, and facilitated workshops to get students actively engaged in the campaign for Medicare for All. While these efforts sparked dialogue among my classmates and raised the platform of the issue on campus, I again faced the same realization that I had for my other on-campus advocacy projects: these programs could easily disappear if future classes of students didn’t have the same passion for the issue.
Authoring two resolutions
Thus, I decided to try a different approach—to write resolutions. In my second year of medical school, I authored two resolutions addressing awareness of LGBTQ+ healthcare needs. One called for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ health topics in medical school curricula and for the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation to support this by including such a provision in its accreditation standards. The second urged the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) to take a stance in opposition to conversion therapy. These two resolutions both passed the SOMA House of Delegates, and the latter was also adopted by the AOA. It is now considered unethical for any DO to engage in the practice of conversion therapy.
This summer, I started working on a resolution in support of single-payer health care. In the wake of several failed attempts by our government at reforming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and gutting the health care system, it felt important and timely to engage students and physicians in a serious, evidence-based conversation about the benefits of a single-payer health care system. It’s a system that stands to improve the efficiency of our health care system, improve access to care, and make health care more affordable for everyone. The resolution was passed by the SOMA House of Delegates in October 2016, and it will be debated and voted on by the AOA in the summer of 2018.
The experience of being involved with medical advocacy on a national scale has been an incredibly empowering experience. Realizing that major policy changes can start at a medical student’s fingertips, typing away on a computer about something he or she feels passionate about, fuels my excitement for continued leadership involvement within the profession. It has also helped me to build a network of like-minded students and physicians, who motivate me to keep re-engaging in new issues that impact the field of medicine. These are experiences that I will never forget, and they are lessons that will encourage continued engagement on behalf of my patients, my community, and my profession.
Written by Katharina De Klerk, Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine of Midwestern University.