It is not often that medical students are exposed to the legislative process of enacting health policy. UC Davis School of Medicine students have better opportunities than most because of their school’s proximity to California’s State Capitol in Sacramento. Each year for example, students participate in “Lobby Day,” which enables them to meet with lawmakers and advocate on behalf of various health-care issues. Five students recently got a further opportunity to engage in health-policy debates and discussions when they attended the California Medical Association’s (CMA) House of Delegates convention in Anaheim.
Thanks to support from the CMA Foundation, Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society and the School of Medicine’s Office of Student and Resident Diversity, first-year students John Paul Aboubechara, Christina Lee, Diego Vargas, Jeremy Johnson and Lucy Ogbu were able to participate with the professional organization that represents California physicians in legislative, regulatory, economic and social advocacy. They were joined by Darrin Latimore, assistant dean for Student and Resident Diversity, and two Sacramento-area physicians, Richard Thorpe and Lee Snook.
The CMA’s overall goal is to help physicians navigate the increasingly complex challenges of practicing health care in a rapidly evolving society.
“One of the best aspects of the weekend was the overwhelming support and warm reception we received from the physicians,” said Ogbu. “Many of them expressed how important medical students are to the CMA and the future of medicine. Plus, the networking contacts we made serve as an important launching pad for our continuing involvement in health-care advocacy as we complete our medical education.”
Ogbu and her fellow students joined more than 400 physicians and students from other medical schools at the annual House of Delegates meeting, where members deliberated resolutions and reports on a broad range of issues related to medical practice and governance as well as health policy and patient advocacy. Delegates spent four days considering detailed resolutions and recommendations from both individual physicians and delegations. Each item of business was assigned to a "reference committee," consisting of six delegates, which conducted hearings or meetings to receive testimony for or against proposed resolutions. The committees then formulated recommendations for action by the full House.
Reference committee meetings presented the students with an exciting opportunity to voice their opinions about issues under consideration in the Medical Student Section of the conference. One resolution called for California physicians to have the authority to identify minors at risk for sexual exploitation and refer them to appropriate social services. The UC Davis group also was impressed by fellow student delegates who successfully passed a resolution calling for California medical schools to have greater autonomy in setting graduation requirements.
Another highlight was the full House of Delegates meeting. Controversial subjects generated passionate debate among attendees, especially the topic of a single payer health-care system. Despite heated deliberations, the students noted the collegial and respectful atmosphere of the caucus, which they said created a safe environment for amicable discussions.
“The more time we spent at the conference,” said Ogbu, “the more insights we gained in how physicians can truly impact health policy and patient care on a broader scale.”
Ogbu and her classmates returned to Sacramento with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm for recruiting fellow students to take a more active interest in health policy.
“One of the most resounding lessons we got from the conference was the incredible scope of influence that we, as medical students, can have on policy during our medical and post-graduate education,” Ogbu said. “Our goal now is to engage and educate classmates throughout the School of Medicine about the opportunities and importance of getting involved in physician associations like the CMA. We can make a difference!”