“Nerves ablaze, my voice cracked as I ended my remarks outlining the need for equitable data collection. I leaned towards the screen, adjusted my eyeline to make eye contact, and asked Representative Thomas Suozzi to support The Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act. Representative Suozzi paused for a second, appeared to think over, or perhaps through the points of my argument–and then responded resolutely with, ‘I will cosign that bill.’ As I looked across the boxes on my screen, I saw the gleaming faces of my peers. Just as it did then, and as it has for countless of my peers since, involvement in the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) Advocacy Day showed me the difference that medical student voices make.”
As the oldest student osteopathic advocacy organization in the U.S., SOMA has continued its 51-year commitment to osteopathic pride and excellence through advocacy opportunities for its more than 15,000 members. SOMA encourages members to participate in developing innovative health care policies and to play an active role in advocacy through internal processes and SOMA governing bodies. For example, as a new SOMA member, I had the opportunity to draft resolutions to be voted on by the SOMA House of Delegates. This improved my policy research skills and gave me insight into the policy drafting process. As a chapter leader, on the other hand, I found myself acting on behalf of hundreds of SOMA members at my school to debate, amend, and vote on member-originated resolutions; these resolutions had the potential to impact operations within both the body of SOMA, as well as our interactions with national stakeholder organizations.
Like my experiences with embracing a more active role in the ever-changing health care climate, osteopathic medical students have exhibited a growing interest in opportunities to advocate for their future patients and the osteopathic profession. As students, one way to advocate is through participation in events such as the aforementioned Advocacy Day. However, as a national organization, SOMA can use its national platform to promote change through direct engagement with stakeholder organizations. A recent example of this process in action was during SOMA’s August 2021 report to the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). During this report, national leaders from SOMA advocated to COCA regarding member-originated policy about the evaluation and accreditation process for Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (COM).
I had the pleasure of presenting resolution S-21-14 to the accrediting body, an extremely pertinent topic following the shift to a virtual environment in 2020. In response to this change, NYITCOM at Arkansas State University set a new osteopathic physician training precedent by successfully including telehealth education in their curriculum. In line with similar successes at local COMs, our membership voted to incorporate this policy, including telehealth training in COM curriculums. On behalf of SOMA and our membership, we requested the COCA to amend Standard 6: Curriculum to read, “… that students achieve all program objectives and participate in required in-person as well as telehealth clinical training experiences and environments.”
With previous experience working with the Special Olympics population of New York, I know how important it is to be mindful of your communication with your patient, and I very much hope for continued growth in osteopathic curricula. I was happy to discuss telehealth, as my family and I utilized it for our medications during the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back on that early-summer day advocating to Representative Suozzi, I can see and appreciate the professional growth from the advocacy opportunities that SOMA has provided me. As Region 1 Trustee, I had the privilege of representing members of my region and alongside my phenomenal colleagues that I have learned so much. If you had asked me where I would be during my third year of medical school two years ago, I would not have anticipated the differences I have helped make in the profession by serving as a SOMA Trustee and now National Treasurer.
I look forward to continuing to engage in meaningful advocacy on behalf of the osteopathic student body.
Scott Landman is an osteopathic medical student.
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