Bridging the Gap: Medical Students and Health Policy

By Kira Gressman & Nikkole Turgeon

For medical students interested in making advocacy and healthcare policy, a part of their careers, figuring out where to start can feel daunting. Each year in April, ACEP has its annual Hill Day in D.C to meet with representatives and senators to promote emergency healthcare policy. While this year’s conference took on a virtual format, it presented the perfect opportunity for the two of us to learn firsthand about policymaking. We each joined our local state ACEP chapter teams, New Hampshire and Vermont, to present pressing issues related to COVID-19, including Personal Protective Equipment access, physician liability, COVID-related insurance coverage and patient barriers to testing.

Joining virtual conversations between local emergency physicians and our states’ politicians in Washington showed us some of the nuances of practicing medicine that cannot be learned in the classroom – Who actually writes health policies? How does expert information get translated to politicians to inform decision-making? What can physicians say to policymakers to have their voices heard? We so often discuss social determinants of health and the logistical challenges of patient care in the vacuum of our medical school courses, sometimes leaving the real world of policy feeling like an enigma. Medical students have the power and privilege to take action as advocates for our healthcare colleagues and, most importantly, our patients. Like ourselves, many students may want to be involved but might feel intimidated or not know where to start. The ACEP Hill Day was not only a structured opportunity to learn the ropes from experienced and passionate physicians, but a tangible way to break down the wall that makes students feel so far removed from health policy work. Especially as first-time participants, and during a pandemic, it was empowering and insightful to be a part of the policy process. Medical students – we encourage you to take that first leap by participating in future opportunities like the ACEP Hill Day. For physicians involved in this amazing policy work, we encourage you to continue inviting students to be a part of the process to help train future advocates and leaders. 

Kira Gressman is an MS3 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth & Nikkole Turgeon is an MS3 at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. They are student members of ACEP and the Advocacy & Health Policy Coordinators for the New England Medical Student Council.