How an AMA conference made this medical student an effective advocate

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Medical students will play a large part in shaping the future of health care. That work can begin with the efforts medical students make as advocates for positive change in today’s health policy.

The 2024 AMA Medical Student Advocacy Conference (MAC) on March 7-8, for which registration recently opened, is an outstanding opportunity for medical students to get hands-on training on the policymaking and lobbying and do in-person advocacy with Legislators on Capitol Hill. Jessica McAllister has attended the conference three times and is now the AMA Government Relations Advocacy Fellow (GRAF). In an interview, she drew from her experiences to highlight the numerous benefits the conference presents to medical students.

First among these is that the conference offers the opportunity to meet your peers from across the nation and forge relationships with those who may have similar geography-specific interests and backgrounds, McAllister said.

“You are meeting all of these medical students from around the country who you maybe wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet with outside of this event,” said McAllister, who has completed three years of medical school at Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine at Washington State University, and is taking a year off to work as the AMA Government Relations Advocacy Fellow in Washington, DC.

“You’re working together with students based on their … voting district and so they might not be people who are at your school or at a medical school in your state, but they happen to have grown up or previously lived in the area that you did,” McAllister said. “So you’re connecting with folks who are having other experiences in medicine and doing medical school at places across the country, but with whom you share this common background.”

The AMA Medical Student Advocacy Conference is the AMA’s largest advocacy event for medical students. Register now to help shape policy with your peers.

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Medical students who attend the conference gain an introduction to the techniques that make for an effective advocate. Those skills are likely to have a lasting impact for medical students as their career and advocacy interests evolve.

“It really gives a baseline for how to effectively approach interactions with lawmakers,” McAllister said. “You learn how to introduce yourself to legislators, and how to pitch an argument as to why a legislator should support a bill or issue. It’s really important to learn the tools to be able to relay that information effectively to advocate successfully on behalf of your colleagues and your patients.”

In addition to training, the conference offers medical students the opportunity to apply the skills they gain through face-to-face conversations with lawmakers and their staff members.

“I don’t know of any other opportunities that exist for medical students to come to D.C. and have meetings scheduled for them to speak with their legislators in person and talk directly to the office staff of their legislators about issues that they care about in health care,” McAllister said.

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Interactions McAllister has had with lawmakers during MAC have allowed her to keep an open dialogue with elected officials. McAllister said the relationship she forged with Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal has extended beyond the conference. She has spoken with both the congresswoman and her staff members about issues such as reproductive justice.

“When Dobbs was decided last year, I already had this preexisting relationship with Rep. Jayapal, so I was able to meet with her staff and talk to them about these specific issues that I had been working on with the AMA and my state medical society,” McAllister said.

An interest in advocacy can shape the kind of physician you become, and it is also a topic that might be of interest during residency interviews.

“As medical students, we obviously care a lot about the next step in our training, which is residency and to have attended this event and gained this training can help you stand out,” McAllister said. “It shows that you have nonclinical interests in medicine and dedicate time advocating for patients outside of the hospital, and not every medical student will have something like this on their resume.”

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