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Giving Voice to Millennials

I recently attended the inaugural Educational Policy Series presentation organized by Christiana Shoushtari and Anna Zelivianskaia of our CMS Medical Student Section. The purpose of the meeting was to educate physicians-in-training on the importance of advocacy and how to approach it. The turnout was much larger than anticipated, at over 90 students from all seven medical schools in Cook County.  Even after a change of venue to accommodate the crowd, we were scrambling to set up more tables.

We heard from Scott Ziomek, Director of External Affairs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, who gave a talk about Northwestern’s approach to advocacy, and gave an example of an effort they led to preserve tax exempt status for non-profit academic medical centers in Illinois. He also spoke about the potential reduction in funding for graduate medical education. The audience was highly attentive, asked some clearly pointed and informed questions, and many stayed late. I was struck by one question in particular: “What are physicians doing about this problem?” I came away from this meeting with two distinct impressions: 1) While the work we are doing is important, it has not been widely perceived as such by our peers; and 2) The next generation of physicians is highly knowledgeable and engaged in public policy, which gives me hope about #1.

Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 1995. They entered the workforce during the worst recession since the Great Depression. They are graduating from medical school with an unprecedented average debt of $176,000. They are technologically savvy and maintain extensive connections through social media. All these factors add up to a group that is highly motivated and capable of organizing for change. You can see this in the success that political campaigns have had recently when they are able to connect with and mobilize millennials.

The AMA’s Medical Student Advocacy Conference has seen over double the number of registrations from last year. We’ve seen it in increased student and resident participation in our CMS Council meetings. Millennials are informed, articulate and passionate. We need to harness their energy and talent. For that reason, I strongly support increasing resident and student representation at the ISMS House of Delegates meeting, making it proportional to their membership and on a par with other districts. It’s time that we gave full voice to the future generation of physicians.

It raises the question: What role should physicians have in shaping public policy? Is it an obligation we have as citizens who are privileged to witness the effects of public policy on our patients’ health and lives? Do our responsibilities end with the role of agency, which is acting within the system to facilitate the needs of individual patients? Or do our responsibilities extend to advocacy, which is changing the system so that it works better for all of our patients?

Kathy M. Tynus, MD
President, Chicago Medical Society

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