Med Students Lobby for New Yorkers’ Health

By Claire Hughes for

Doctors must advocate for their patients’ health — with supervisors who approve procedures, for instance, or insurance companies that pay for services.

On Tuesday, dozens of doctors-to-be tried different advocacy skills — lobbying state lawmakers to advance proposals they believe will improve New Yorkers’ health.

“If we are not going to fight for our patients, who will?” Albany Medical College student Xin Guan asked a few dozen young adults in white coats who had stopped in the basement of the Legislative Office Building for coffee, bagels and a press briefing between their morning and afternoon visits to lawmakers.

It was the first Medical Student Advocacy Day, organized by Guan, originally from California, and two other second-year students from Albany Med, Ajay Major of Indiana and Phyllis Ying of Seattle.

Some 60 to 70 students from around the state joined them. A glance at the coats suggested most were from Albany Med, but some had traveled from several downstate schools, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine, SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Medical Center.

Guan, Major and Ying had prepped them with some activist training before the event. Lobbying representatives was a new activity for about half the students, they said.

While the group shared a concern for health issues, they spoke with legislators about proposals that interested them as individuals. Small groups organized around a few popular issues, including bills to provide universal health coverage for all New Yorkers, allow marijuana for medical use, and prohibit doctors from participating in the torture and improper treatment of prisoners.

Anti-hunger advocate Mark Dunlea gave the students a pep talk before they headed back out to meet their afternoon slate of legislators. Dunlea’s group, Hunger Action Network of New York State, works with a coalition of organizations that provide aid to low-income people who struggle with the costs of health care.

He told the students that their future profession would carry some weight with legislators. And he reminded them that legislators are public servants.

“Remember, these guys work for you,” he said.