In Philadelphia, we’re working with The Jefferson Service Training in Advocacy for Residents and Students (JeffSTARS) program. This is an elective educational program for Thomas Jefferson University and Nemours trainees who are in their senior year of medical school or residency and want to learn more about community health and advocacy through a one month rotation with community health organizations.
Recently, JeffSTAR, Lindsay Caldarone, spent her rotation with AHA and with Jake Zychick, our Community Advocacy Director in Philadelphia. Through this program, Lindsay learned a lot about public health and the power of advocacy. Lindsay put into her own words what this experience taught her and what she’ll take away from it.
“In medical school, we talk a lot about advocacy. We learn to advocate for our patients in the exam room and in the hospital room. This can range connecting patients with local dental resources to promote good oral health, or arranging transportation for them to get safely home after being discharged from the hospital. What becomes more difficult – perhaps the most difficult parts of patient encounters – is when the needs extend beyond what is immediately accessible for us as clinicians. That’s where Advocacy comes in.
It was during my month on an Advocacy elective that I was first introduced to the concept of Advocacy, with a big A. While advocacy includes everything we do to address our patients’ individual needs on a one-on-one basis, Advocacy includes engaging with local representatives and stakeholders to make change at a system- or institution-level, like legislation. This concept was new and exciting to me, but made so much sense: as a public health major in college, I had been struggling with how to reconcile the individual patient encounters I experienced with the bigger picture. Advocacy was the answer!
At first, I was slightly intimidated. I had no experience with government or law, much less advocating for or against pieces of legislation. Through this elective and my time with the AHA, however, I learned how accessible engaging with Advocacy is. I was able to attend local government meetings, including a Philadelphia City Council meeting - which I learned are all open to the public. Though my project specifically centered around transportation infrastructure and its impacts on health, I was able to learn about a broad array of issues from concerned community members that affect the very patient population I am hoping to serve. Merely being a part of these meetings gave me a great deal of insight into community-level issues, which I can now incorporate my discussions with patients in the office.
In addition, I was able to apply what I learned through my AHA experience when my student cohort met with our elected representatives. We discussed pieces of legislation that would affect our communities, using the knowledge we had gained from researching the topic, working with our community partners, and our individual experiences. Not only were our representatives committed to hearing what we had to say, but they helped us understand their perspective on why the legislation was important, and suggested ways we could continue our Advocacy efforts.
I learned enormously from this experience. Not only do I have a much better understanding of how our transportation infrastructure affects our health, but I now have the resources and skills to be able to Advocate for the health of our communities moving forward.”
Thank you, Lindsay, for taking the time to learn about the how and why behind many of the health issues that will impact your patients throughout your career. Finding your voice and being more comfortable to use it to advocate for the change you want to see will no doubt make you understand your patients and their needs more and know how to speak up for them.