If you’re in medicine, you’re in politics

by Nicholas J. Rohrhoff

Each generation of physicians has no choice but to take on the responsibility of learning the science of medicine – how best to care for patients.  But current circumstances dictate that we must also bear the burden of developing policy that creates the best system in which to provide that care.

Creation of a 21st century American healthcare system will require engagement and effort from everyone.  In this endeavor, the role of physicians is special.  We are, first and foremost, the chief advocates for patients.  Far too often, this role absconds when we leave the exam room, hospital or clinic.

No more.

Awash in a sea of commentary from the press, politicians and pundits, one important segment of our society has been relatively quiet in the healthcare reform debate: tomorrow’s doctors.

No longer.

Today (Monday, February 7th), hundreds of future physicians from across the country, representing each year in medical school, arrive on Capitol Hill to meet with legislators as part of the American Medical Association’s Medical Student Lobby Day.

In relaying our desire to provide high quality care for constituents – our patients – we reaffirm that medicine is not a career, but a calling.  It is humbling, yet awe-inspiring, to know that our passion will be integral to the success of the healthcare system we are destined to inherit.

The foundation of that system and our profession is the doctor-patient relationship. But this sacred and uniquely human interaction does not exist in isolation.  It occurs in a complex, fragmented framework of physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers, hospitals, third-party payers, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, federal and state policymakers, lawyers, and more.

In other words, if you’re in medicine, you’re in politics.

Politics.  As a current or future physician, the response that word elicits is likely both monosynaptic and dissonant.  But if you listen closely enough through the cacophony, you can hear the patient whom you ran into at the grocery store last weekend say to her fellow shopper, “That’s my doctor.”

Like other stakeholders, we have resisted the label “special interest” because of its colloquial negative connotation.   But consider that, from 18-month old well-child checks to diabetes medication adjustments for elderly patients, each of the over 300 million people in this nation will have their lives touched, at some point, by a physician.

In that way, while medical students as a group aren’t necessarily a “special interest,” our interests are pretty special.

More than a century after the publishing of the Flexner Report on the status of medical education in America, the United States still offers the best medical training in the world.  Yes, we could easily be content in representing another iteration of that tried and true process.

But, if we acknowledge the obligation that comes with this unique opportunity, we can also become something even greater – a generation of progress.

Nicholas J. Rohrhoff is a medial student.

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