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Spring 2014
BMM Current Issue
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Power of the White Coat
Students rally for health care reform.
First-year medical students are taught in their Doctoring course to ask patients: “Do you ever have to choose between paying for food or medication?” Hannah Watson ’08 MD’12 says that lately, many patients in her physician-mentor’s practice have answered “Yes.”

That’s partly why she joined other members of Brown’s chapter of the American Medical Students Association (AMSA) at a health care reform rally on February 17. “Jobs Now, Health Care Now” was organized by a coalition of advocacy groups to raise awareness of Rhode Island’s unemployment crisis and the need for health care coverage.

One of AMSA’s national priorities is quality, affordable health care for all. “As students and future health care professionals, we are important stakeholders ers in this debate,” Watson says. “We come to this with fresh eyes and we’re saying ‘This is not the system we want to work in or that we want for our patients.’”

Watson says listening to patients’ stories at a community health center last year made her realize how joblessness and lack of adequate health insurance tie together to affect health. “These problems don’t exist in a vacuum.”

The AMSA chapter has organized a number of events to help students become advocates. Recently, the Rhode Island Medical Society, Ocean State Action, and a local physician held a workshop called “Patient Advocacy through Legislative Action,” to teach students what doctors can do to lobby legislature. AMSA is planning a lobbying day this spring to speak out on three items before the state’s General Assembly.

More than 20 Alpert medical students have been involved in the health care reform efforts, Watson says. “When we get that white coat as firstyears we assume a lot of responsibility. We are in a privileged position—we’re not just students. We can listen and advocate for our patients.”

And, she adds, sometimes being “just” a student makes people more apt to listen.

“Last August [the town hall meetings] were getting pretty heated. People were emotional. When we’d step up and say ‘we’re medical students,’ the opponents trusted [us] in a way that surprised me. As students we’re not as threatening, and we were able to get beyond all the aggression.”

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