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Vital Signs

"Politics" isn't a dirty word for these medical students

By Jennifer Durgin

Medicine is not an isolated field," saysMatthew Ippolito, a second-year medical student. "The role of the physician in the community should [include] community service and political awareness."

Ippolito is already following his own advice. He and his classmate Kimberly Cartmill are copresidents of the DMS chapter of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). This year, they formed committees within the chapter focusing on health policy, global health, primary care, community service, and political activism.

Stump: In October, the chapter sponsored a lecture by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island who was stumping for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. (The group invited the Republicans to send a speaker as well, but the McCain campaign never did.) The talk was one of several events the DMS chapter organized this fall.

Whitehouse, who is known for promoting health-care reform in the Senate, spoke about the Obama proposals. Afterward, he fielded some tough questions from an audience of about 20 students and a handful of faculty and staff.

"Right now there is a huge demand for primary care," noted Scott Wiener, a DMS '12. "For the first-year medical students here, what can be done to convince us to go into primary care?"

"That's a good question," said Whitehouse. He suggested that the medical-home model—in which a patient's primary-care physician is at the heart of a highly efficient and coordinated care system—might be a solution. "I don't know a way to improve reimbursement for primary care without going into that medical-home model," Whitehouse admitted.

Wiener followed up by suggesting that federal loans for medical students be structured to encourage them to go into primary care.

"Good idea," responded the senator. "I'm going to see if there is a bill to do that. If not, maybe I'll write one."

Vote: A few weeks after the Whitehouse talk, DMS's AMSA chapter set up shop outside the DHMC cafeteria to help Vermont and New Hampshire residents register to vote.

In the future, Ippolito and Cartmill hope to organize a panel presentation by experts in managed care and to coordinate a lobbying day, during which DMS students would travel to the New Hampshire statehouse to promote policies that AMSA supports.

The AMSA chapter at DMS is about giving "those students who are motivated an outlet for their interest not only in the policy side of things but the advocacy side," says Ippolito. Current and future doctors should know that their representatives in government "are just a phone call away," he adds.

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