JeffSTARS participant sees new perspective in health policy.

Every year, The American Heart Association and Jefferson University partners as a part of their JeffSTARS program, a program where Jefferson medical students spend a semester working with partner organizations to learn about different aspects of a medical career beyond direct clinical engagement with patients. Here is what Emily Duffner experienced working with American Heart Association.

“The JeffSTARS program is a curriculum designed to teach residents and medical students about health advocacy and how they can get involved. During my month-long advocacy rotation, I was able to participate in the program–attending journal clubs and advocacy cafes, and working with the American Heart Association as my community partner.

Through my experience, I learned to expand my advocacy from the level of the patient (“little a”) to the level of legislation (“big A”). This is critical because our legislators are responsible for creating the environment in which our patients live and operate. The issue with this is that there are many topics that legislators are not well-versed in, so we need expert advocates to speak on what they believe will create positive change. As a healthcare professional, I will be the expert on medical topics, and I will have my patient experiences informing what I believe can be improved.

On this rotation, I learned how to present a topic to legislators in a digestible manner, and to propose changes that I think will benefit patients. I believe one of the key elements of successful advocacy is identifying stakeholders and being able to tailor a proposal to each stakeholder’s goals. This was challenging because, as a provider, I am used to working for the best patient outcomes. However, in order to appeal to policy makers I had to learn to consider things like budgeting and resource allocation. This gave me a new perspective and taught me how to approach a problem from different angles in order to get everyone supporting a shared goal. This will be a crucial skill moving forward in my career because, while I have been trained to recognize issues in the current healthcare system, I am now equipped with the skills to enact real change.

My biggest takeaway from my time working with the AHA is that everyone has the power to be an advocate. While advocacy can be overwhelming at first, if you pick an issue that you are passionate about, you can become the expert and educate and inform decision makers. The first step is to do your research, and then to present it in a way that is easy to understand so that legislators are inclined to get behind your cause. It is fun and exciting to be able to fight for change, and to see the results of your hard work when new policies and opportunities arise. I am excited to continue to embark on my advocacy journey and to work with partners like the AHA well into the future.”

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