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JeffSTARS program participant talks about advocacy in medicine

As you may have heard, American Heart Association in Philadelphia is proud to be working with participants of the JeffSTARS program through Thomas Jefferson University Medical School. Through this program future physician, Katherine McLeod, learned about advocacy and how it can impact the work she will do with patients and the community throughout her career. 

This is her story.

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"In medical school we learn how to advocate for the needs of the individual person. When we meet with a patient, we are taught to ask questions about aspects of their life that may directly affect their ability to receive high quality care—things like transportation, food insecurity, and housing. We discuss and provide local resources with patients to help combat these obstacles. However, advocacy does not end here.

It was not until I participated in the JeffSTARS program that I learned that I spent most of the medical school learning about only half of my advocacy potential. JeffSTARS is a program that connects medical students and providers with community partners to promote the relationship between medicine and the community. What we learn in medical school, which I described above, is termed little ‘a’ advocacy, which is focused on the individual. Through JeffSTARS I learned about big ‘A’ advocacy, which is advocacy focused at improving health disparities at the policy level.

As a medical student, I thought my role in advocacy stopped at the little ‘a’ level. I thought all I could do for patients was provide information about available resources. However, after working with the American Heart Association (AHA), I found that I can make an impact at the big ‘A’ level as well. When I started, the AHA was working to advocate for the development of the Department of Health in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. For background, Delaware County is the largest county in the United States without a Department of Health. I spent time learning about and researching the greatest health disparities within the county. I subsequently wrote a letter to the Delaware City Council promoting the development of the Delaware County Health Department.

Through experience with JeffSTARS and the AHA, I learned about my greater potential as a community advocate. I leave this experience with the knowledge that I am capable of enacting change in my community at a greater level than I realized. It doesn’t take a background in public health or policy to participate in big ‘A’ advocacy. We all capable of learning who our local policy makers are and reach out to them about topics we are passionate about. Most importantly though, we are all capable of making a positive impact in our community."

Katherine's story shows us that advocacy can come in all different forms. While supporting the individual is a critical need for care, supporting the community and pushing for policies that make the community healthy is a key component to advocacy. It's that "big A" advocacy that helps support the "little a" advocacy that physicians like Katherine will work with patients on throughout their career. 

Thank you to Katherine McLeod and the rest of the JeffSTARS for their work on policy issues but also for their willingness to understand all facets of what make patients and their communities as healthy as possible. 

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