Advocacy Training and Medical Education: The CoFP

As a medical student, it is easy to get bogged down in the every day. And it is easy, sometimes, to forget why I chose to become a doctor. For this I am most thankful for MSFC and the Conference on Family Planning. To be surrounded by peers who have committed to physician advocacy, and who believe in fundamental reproductive rights, feels like a radical act. To connect with mentors who have made space in their careers to provide abortion care makes the reality of pursuing family planning in my own future seem much more attainable.

Today, I am learning how to read ECGs, trying my best to remember the Cornell Voltage Criteria for left ventricular hypertrophy and how to calculate the QRS axis. But I’m also reflecting on what my future as a physician might look like under a Trump presidency. The threat of an ACA repeal continues to loom, promising to rip away access to care for patients, many of whom already have troublingly limited access to the care they deserve. I wonder if I’ll be able to deliver the care I’m being trained to provide. I imagine the ways in which my government – a government that does not uphold health care and reproductive freedom as human rights – will let my patients die, especially those from marginalized communities.

It is in these moments that I find myself unsure where my priorities should lie: with my values of justice or with the immediate academic pressures demanding my attention? In moments of clarity, I remember that these are uniquely connected. I came to medical school because I believe that medicine and those who practice it should be committed to providing ethical, accessible care to all patients. In order to reach that goal, I must learn both how to read an ECG and also how to be an effective patient advocate. Medical Students for Choice has given me one avenue to develop those skills together with my chapter co-leaders at Boston University School of Medicine.

Sitting in our hotel room on the Saturday night of last year’s Conference on Family Planning, those co-leaders and I reflected on just how little opportunity we had in medical school to learn about and discuss sexual health. The workshops of the day had our minds running wildly about what our education was missing and how medical schools were training future physicians who had little formal training on the nuances of sexual practice, pleasure, function, and dysfunction.

Our conversation ignited a project which has grown into a collaboration with interest groups across specialties at Boston University. This September we launched a workshop series to address the holes in medical school curricula. Each is led by experts in sexual health, including community activists, sex educators, teen educators, self-advocates, pelvic floor physical therapists, physicians, social workers, and researchers. We’ve named the series Sexual Healing (thanks, Marvin Gaye!). We’re excited to continue to push ourselves and our peers to be better, more informed clinicians. We believe this project is a crucial step in that direction.

I’d encourage any medical student who is interested in advocacy to consider joining us for the 2017 Conference on Family Planning. This work is so important, especially as reproductive rights are increasingly under attack. I often feel helpless to make change as a medical student. MSFC reminds me just how powerful my voice and my actions are in standing up for those who deserve the right to shape their reproductive future.