Medical schools are interested in accepting students who make a positive impact in their communities. One way to make a broad impact on the health of populations is through health policy. As a premed, you can work with policymakers to change laws and shape policies that affect the health care system. What’s exciting is that your work can improve the health of thousands of individuals.
Another reason premed students get involved with health policy is to learn more about health care systems. Domestically, premeds can learn about the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act. Internationally, premed students can better understand the relationship between nongovernmental organizations and health departments in various countries.
Involvement in health policy can also strengthen a premed student’s medical school applications. Health policy analysis is one avenue to conduct research, especially for students who are less interested in lab-based research. Aspiring applicants can write journal articles, co-author publications and give presentations about their work.
Students will have the opportunity to discuss their health policy work extensively on primary medical school applications and in secondary essays and interviews.
How to Get Involved in Health Policy
Finding health policy projects and research is similar to finding other research opportunities and internships. Be proactive.
One place to start looking is at your college or university. Reach out to your professors, premed advising office and career center for internships and jobs. Other sources for projects are government offices like public health departments, city councils, state legislatures and national government organizations.
Additionally, medical organizations such as the American Cancer Society and American Medical Association have various advocacy opportunities. At the international level, popular organizations premeds work with include departments of health, USAID, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Involvement in Local Health Policy
While Ralph Lawton was a premed student at Duke University, he worked as an EMT in eastern North Carolina. He saw several opioid overdose patients and wanted to contribute to addressing the opioid epidemic beyond medical care.
One summer, he interned with the Edgecombe County Health Department on its opioid programs. He built a database recording the epidemiology of overdoses in the area and conducted interviews with first responders and opioid users.
As a result, he was able to help the department make more confident decisions and allocate resources toward opioid programs. His work culminated in data that identified opioid overdose hot spots and then initiated naloxone distribution and needle exchange programs in those areas. Lawton presented his work at a research conference and submitted a manuscript for publication.
This experience in health policy shaped Lawton’s perspective on medicine. “I grew more passionate about the way factors external to clinical medicine shaped health,” he says. “The biggest lesson I learned was the tight relationship between effective research and effective policymaking.”
Involvement in State Health Policy
As a premed student and Public Policy & International Affairs major at Princeton University, I was involved in a task force that identified barriers to health care access within state Medicaid programs. I conducted interviews with Medicaid administrators about how they monitored access to health care across the state. I discovered that it was important for states to monitor this data to determine if there were enough primary care providers and specialists in the network.
States also identified language and cultural needs of their residents. I found that programs used a variety of measurement methods, including geographic data, focus groups and patient surveys, and I presented my research to state Medicaid directors.
This health policy task force allowed me to take theory into real-life practice. As somebody who was interested in improving access to health care, I gained insights into the perspective of state Medicaid administrators and how they implemented health care policies for low-income individuals. I learned that it was not only important to expand access to health care, but also to sustain access to health care.
Involvement in National and International Health Care Policy
When Dr. Megan Srinivas was a premed student at Harvard University, she conducted her senior thesis research on malaria treatment policies in Peru. She spent a summer collecting data on Peruvians’ malarial histories, including their symptoms and treatment regimens. She found that a large percentage of the patients were not being treated adequately because they were infected with a drug-resistant malaria strain; medications did not clear malaria from their bodies.
Along with presenting her findings at a research conference, Srinivas also gave recommendations to Peru’s Ministry of Health. The Peruvian government found her research insightful and changed the malaria treatment regimens in regions of Peru.
Through her health policy involvement, Srinivas says, she learned that “medicine was so much more than treating patients clinically. The knowledge we bring as medical experts can change the treatments for a large population and impact survival for an entire population.”
Health policy can complement direct patient clinical care. In these three cases, each student learned how to enact policy changes and helped incorporate improvements at different levels of government.
Through health policy, aspiring physicians can shape communities and improve the health of countless individuals. As Srinivas notes: “As medical professionals, it’s our duty to stand up for our patients in all venues, and that includes the politics and policies surrounding medical care.”
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Why Premeds Should Engage in Health Policy, Advocacy originally appeared on usnews.com