Patient advocacy at the polls

On Sept. 20, the 10th anniversary of National Voter Registration Day, students from a coalition comprising the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA), American Medical Association (AMA), and Women in Medicine (WiM) hosted tables with voter registration forms and educational resources for their classmates. As a result of these efforts, around 80 students across three Texas A&M School of Medicine campuses (Bryan-College Station, Dallas and Round Rock) were able to register to vote and fill out absentee ballot request forms.

After spending their first year of medical school together at the School of Medicine in Bryan-College Station, the students split off to three campuses across Texas to start their second year and their clinical experiences, and many of them moved to a new county where they are not registered to vote. A team of second-year medical students came together to “remove some barriers ahead of the upcoming registration deadline by helping classmates re-register in their new county, request absentee ballots or check to see if their registration is current,” said Alexander Le, MPH, second-year medical student, and co-president of APAMSA. These team members from the Class of 2025 included Le, Ritika Gangarapu and Anjali Bhatt in Dallas; Sayali Shelke and Jessie Jiang in Round Rock; and Stephen Kwong, George Li, Donovan Nguyen and Colin Chan in Bryan-College Station.

This initiative was inspired by Vot-ER, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to integrate civic engagement into health care that has equipped health care workers to assist 45,000 Americans in registering or preparing to vote. Involvement of health care professionals in the voting process is important because, as the AMA delineates in their updated policy, “voting is a social determinant of health” and directly impacts legislation that affects housing, environmental quality, access to health insurance and other social needs that impact health outcomes.

Le explained that increasing electoral participation of health care professionals at the student level is ideal. “Medical students are in the perfect position to go beyond our coursework and promote civic health, such as voting for equitable policy change, working with local community organizations, and engaging with government representatives,” he said. “Ultimately, by using our voices to actively participate in the democratic process, we can create the changes that lead to both a healthy democracy and a healthier society for all of our patients.”

To encourage medical students to embrace their role in patient advocacy through civic engagement, the three organizations hosted a virtual speaker event on Sept. 22 featuring Bich-May Nguyen, MD, MPH, a clinical associate professor from the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine. Nguyen also serves on the board of Doctors for America and conducts research involving health policy, developing anti-racist curricula and health access for underserved populations.

“A major takeaway for me was that, as politicians with no medical background increasingly make medical decisions, future medical professionals need to mobilize and become the voice for our patients and get involved in health policy,” said Sayali Shelke, second-year medical student and recruitment chair for the Medical Student Section of the AMA/Texas Medical Association at the School of Medicine. “Registering my peers to vote was a refreshing and optimistic way to do my part in encouraging future physicians to vote and be involved in our policy process.”

These efforts during the week of National Voter Registration Day presented many opportunities for students to engage in conversations about the importance of fulfilling their civic duties despite the rigor of medical school schedules, and facilitated the voter registration process for many students to put these ideals into practice.

“The convenience of having the table right there, with people to answer any questions I had and walk me through the process so quickly, was amazing,” said Urenna Orazulike, a second-year medical student at the Round Rock campus. “I didn’t have to weigh the time or energy it would take to otherwise register on my own, so there was really no excuse to not make this small effort towards my civic engagement.”

To register to vote or update your registration online in Texas for the Nov. 8 midterm elections (early voting Oct. 24 through Nov. 4), visit votetexas.gov by Oct. 11, 2022. To check your registration status or update your address, visit https://teamrv-mvp.sos.texas.gov/MVP/mvp.do.

 

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