Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pick your battles

A few weeks ago (yes, I'm a bit behind on the blogaschedule), I attended the American Medical Student Association Region X conference. AMSA is a forum for med student activism, and the conference was titled "Advocacy into Action: Taking responsibility for the future of health care." While being really impressed with the passion and spirit that everyone -- speakers, participants, and organizers -- showed, I walked away a bit disoriented.

My problem was how to choose. The issues at hand were all pressing, important, and easy to get caught up in, especially after hours of impassioned speeches from people who dedicated large pieces of their lives to their issues. Global health, health disparities, health care reform, reproductive health rights, issues of race, gender and sexuality in medicine. These and more were addressed, with a plea to "get involved" behind every speech and presentation.

So how do you decide how much time to dedicate to activism, when learning to be a doctor is already so taxing? How do you pick what the best use of your time is? By the number of people you may be able to help? The profundity of your impact? Or maybe it's about you: you pick the issues you feel closest to; you're drawn by what has touched you in the past.

I care about change on a systemic level -- the idea of being an advocate for women in the developing world is one of the reasons I'm in medical school. But lately I've been feeling that focusing my efforts on people thousands of miles away is irresponsible, and will tear my attention into pieces. So I made a decision to get involved in advocacy around universal health care in the U.S. It's as pressing an issue as any, and only by speaking up will any change ever happen. Look for more posts on this in the future.

Let's be clear that I still haven't come to a conclusion on this. I still don't know how starting an activist career will affect my performance as a student, or overall sanity. And I don't want to ever stop pursuing international women's health issues. But getting involved in issues closer to home makes me feel like I'm serving my future patients, and taking responsibility for mistakes my own government has made, at the expense of its people. And it's exciting: we're planning a lobby day to take place next month. If you're a California voter who believes in expanding health care access, come join me.

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