Guide to Leading Your Chapter
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about being an MSFC chapter leader, with advice and resources from staff and members. If you need any help, you can always contact your chapter’s student organizer by emailing [email protected].
Since its founding, Medical Students for Choice has been a student-driven organization. We depend on passionate student leaders to further our mission. Student Leaders are the foundation of the organization and are integral to the success of MSFC: assessing campus needs, organizing fellow students around these needs, filling the gaps in curriculum through educational events, promoting MSFC opportunities to classmates, and working with administrators to officially add abortion and family planning to the medical school curriculum.
As a student leader, you are part of an international organization with over 13,000 members.
Medical Students for Choice was founded in 1993 by a small group of student activists determined to make abortion training available at their medical schools. Violence against abortion providers was rising and medical students received a grotesque anti-choice propaganda mailing. In light of this, Jody Steinauer, a medical student at University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues realized that they were not learning about abortion in their medical schools. They formed MSFC chapters at three medical schools with the goal of destigmatizing abortion care in the medical community and fighting for education for new doctors.
While abortion has always been a central part of MSFC’s mission, overcoming reproductive oppression in all its forms also means a commitment to supporting justice movements of all kinds. We cannot achieve reproductive freedom without true freedom and liberation for all people. Read our values statement here to learn more.
In the 28 years since its inception, Medical Students for Choice has spread to more than ¾ of the medical school campuses in North America and is active at schools in 27 countries. MSFC works to destigmatize abortion provision among medical students and residents, and to persuade medical schools and residency programs to advocate for including abortion as a part of a comprehensive reproductive health services curriculum.
We have educated thousands of students, made curriculum changes on 100 campuses, and have made major inroads in changing the culture of the medical community around abortion care. MSFC alumni have entered the medical world as abortion providers and pro-choice physicians, serving as mentors and advocates for the continuing work of MSFC student activists. The high caliber of MSFC members’ extracurricular education and activism is now well-known and a vital part of the international family planning community.
MSFC was founded by medical students and continues to be a student-directed organization. Learn who’s on the current board of directors, and how you can apply to be on the board, here.
The Board of Directors, made up of students and others community members, creates a broad strategic vision for the organization. Chapters educate their classmates and organize their peers to fight for curriculum reform. Staff support student members, providing resources and organizing the Conference and Training Institutes. Learn more about our structure here.
Starting an MSFC Chapter
If your school doesn’t currently have a chapter of MSFC, or you are working on reviving an inactive chapter, you can reach out to [email protected] and a member of our Student Organizing team will contact you. The process for officially starting a chapter is very simple on MSFC HQ’s end – after talking with a Student Organizer and completing a page of paperwork, you’re all set! However, the process for getting the chapter off the ground on your campus can be more complex and depends on the context of your location and institution. MSFC HQ is here to support you however we can in brainstorming ideas, sharing resources to support your plans and goals, and more; but we ultimately leave it up to you to decide what direction your chapter takes. Some things you’ll want to consider are:
- How you can recruit students to join your chapter
- How many students you want to have in chapter leadership
- What leadership roles (if any) your chapter will have, and what the responsibilities of each role will be
- How you will cultivate new leaders and ensure regular leadership transitions
- How often you will host events, and what kinds of events you want to host (check out our event resources for ideas)
- What projects the chapter will work on, like curriculum reform, advocacy, volunteering, etc.
- If it’s possible to become an official student group at your school, and what the pros/cons to becoming an official school group are
- What other student groups on your campus you can partner with
- If there are other chapters in your state/region/country who you may want to work with (reach out to [email protected] to get connected)
Chapter Communication with Headquarters
MSFC HQ communicates with chapters in the following ways:
- You can always contact MSFC HQ at: [email protected]. Your designated Student Organizer (s staff person assigned to support your region) will also contact you regularly.
- Social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook): Follow us on all these platforms as we share new resources, events, and chapter success stories on them!
Becoming a student leader means you have stepped up to an important leadership position within our movement! It is an opportunity to make a change on your campus and to develop yourself and others as leaders while fighting for access to reproductive health. What you accomplish as a student leader is up to you and your chapter this year.
Student Leader Responsibilities:
- Commit to upholding MSFC’s values in your chapter work. MSFC believes that all people should have access to health services that allow them to lead safe, healthy lives including all aspects of sexual and reproductive health consistent with their own personal and cultural values. All social justice movements intersect and therefore achieving our mission requires working collaboratively to overcome all forms of oppression.
- Distribute appropriate information about MSFC programs, including online webinars and events, the Conference on Family Planning, Reproductive Health Externship, and more. As the chapter leader, you are responsible for ensuring your membership receives this information by forwarding emails from HQ and spreading the word. We’ll make it easy by providing promotional materials and emails. Help make sure your student body has access to all MSFC’s program offerings.
- Host educational events for your campus on abortion, family planning, and reproductive justice that uphold MSFC’s values. MSFC has plenty of resources on event planning, for online and in-person events. The Student Organizing staff is available to answer questions and to give guidance and support.
- Complete the Student Leaders’ Survey 2 times a year. Twice a year, you will be asked to fill out a brief survey (about 5-7 minutes) detailing the MSFC activism on your campus. This info is used to monitor the health and growth of our grassroots. Our program staff uses this data to tailor our programs to better serve you.
- Identify new leaders and transition leadership in the next year. Make sure your chapter stays active and continues your work.
MSFC staff are here to help you complete these responsibilities and achieve your goals.
Successful Chapter Activities
You can find examples of other chapter success stories on our blog. We’ll share success stories on the listserv and social media (especially Instagram), so keep an eye out. If you have had a successful event that you’d like shared, let us know!
- For a how-to guide on event planning, download our Event Planning Guide.
- Need a speaker? Email [email protected] with some preferences to get a list from our database of abortion providers and beyond.
- For ideas and resources for a variety of event topics, check out our event guides.
- Here are some more ideas:
- Organize a Lecture or panel: Contact [email protected] to access our directory of speakers. You may also contact ally organizations to get locally relevant information on reproductive health topics or find speakers for an event.
- Screen a film: Use the videos in our library, or others.
- Host a hands-on workshop: MSFC can provide your chapter with supplies for up to 50 students to participate in one of the following workshops. Contact [email protected] to receive the request form. Students must submit event material requests a minimum of 4 weeks in advance if they’re in the US, and a minimum of 6 weeks in advance if they’re in Canada. There is no charge for ordering supplies.
If you have any questions, need help planning your event, or have had a great event you’d like to share with us, please contact [email protected]. To access club funding, find our Reimbursement Form here.
Student Activism Fund
- MSFC chapters that do not receive grants (US and Canadian chapters) are entitled to up to $150 USD every 6 months.
- These funds do not roll over from one period to the next. SAF Funding will replenish in January and in July.
- Access your funds via reimbursement.
- Additional Student Activism Funding may be available to meet special needs. Contact [email protected] to discuss additional funding needs.
- Restrictions: SAF Funding cannot be used to purchase alcohol, to pay for travel to MSFC’s annual conference, or to pay for fundraising supplies.
- Some chapters outside the US will receive SAF funding in a grant rather than reimbursement.
- If your chapter is eligible to receive a grant, your student organizer will discuss the details with you.
- You must submit grant reports on a quarterly basis. You will receive reminders and detailed instructions. Make sure you get receipts for any MSFC money that you spend.
Student Trust Accounts
Did you do your own fundraising? Need a safe place to keep the funds? Use your MSFC Trust Account.
- Contributions made to a chapter and deposited to a Student Trust account are tax-deductible for donors who pay taxes in the US. MSFC Headquarters sends donors the acknowledgement they need in order to claim a tax deduction.
- You will receive a monthly update on your balance, or can request one at any time.
- A Trust Account ensures that the money you raise is preserved for the future.
- Anyone may deposit funds into a Trust Account, but only a Student Leader may authorize payments or reimbursements.
- Deposits to the Trust Account must be sent to MSFC HQ by check with the medical school name in the memo line or can be sent online via our donation page with medical school name in the dedication line.
*Important note: If a student group is inactive for five years or more, MSFC Headquarters, at its discretion and in keeping with donors’ intentions, may redistribute unused funds.
The reimbursement process is the same for all of the types of the funding listed previously. Requests for reimbursement from the Student Activism Fund or from a Student Trust Account must be authorized by a current Student Leader.
- All reimbursement requests should include a completed Reimbursement Request Form and all relevant itemized receipts with proof of payment (see example below). Requests should be for expenditures greater than $25.00.
- Reimbursement requests must be submitted within 30 days of the date of purchase on submitted receipts.
- Credit card statements and bank statements are not permissible proofs of purchase.
- Mileage is reimbursed using the US IRS reimbursement guidelines. Gas is not reimbursed.
- Reimbursements will be paid through a PayPal account or personal check. It is the recipient’s responsibility to verify that you will be able to receive mail at the address you provide if you choose to receive a check.
- If you need the check re-issued, you will be responsible for a $33USD fee.
- MSFC is responsible for banking fees charged to MSFC’s accounts, but does not pay banking fees incurred by individuals.
- For international transfers, reimbursements will be awarded based on the published exchange rate the day the request is processed.
Not all vendors will include proof of payment and the list of items purchased on the same receipt. You may submit as many receipts as you need to ensure all necessary elements are included. For example, sometimes the signed copy will have proof of payment, but not be itemized, etc.
If a vendor does not automatically provide itemized receipts with proof of payment, please work with them to get the documentation you need for reimbursement. For example, smaller businesses may handwrite receipts, etc. Oftentimes, you can contact a vendor after you’ve made your purchase and have them print/reprint a receipt if you need them to.
Recruitment is very important! Here are some ideas and resources that may help.
- Read our recruitment guide.
- Use social media. Use our design resources to help you make beautiful posts!
- For chapters in Africa, use the MSFC in Africa Messaging Guide.
- Table at an activities fair or busy area of campus. Request goodies to give out at your table here.
- Reach out to other student organizations for collaboration or invite them to your events.
- Maintain a listserv for your chapter to keep people updated about events.
- Use the Intro to MSFC PowerPoint to host an introductory meeting.
The success and sustainability of MSFC’s student-led activism depends on successful transitions in leadership. Your involvement in identifying and fostering new leadership will ensure your chapter’s future growth and its relationship with MSFC headquarters. Here are some tips for developing new leaders and transitioning. Inform MSFC staff when your leadership turns over by emailing [email protected].
- Identify and develop leaders. If certain students repeatedly attend events, offer them opportunities to help out and get involved in small ways that interest them.
- Send out emails, social media posts, or post fliers inviting students to volunteer for leadership positions. Emphasize that those passionate about reproductive rights and access should consider applying as MSFC student leadership is an excellent way to refine both educational and advocacy skills.
- If you have more difficulty securing new leadership, identify one or two people who have been involved with the group that you think would be strong Student Leaders for next year. Encourage them to take on leadership roles as soon as they feel ready.
- Potential candidates may also include students who have been involved in MSFC’s other programs, such as the Conference on Family Planning, Reproductive Health Externship, or Abortion Training Institutes.
- Talk to each of these people personally.
- Tell them why you think they would be great Student Leaders, and what you find to be rewarding about MSFC leadership.
- Get them involved in planning events and have them organize their own event.
- Try to designate successors a semester in advance so that you can have them attend key meetings with you. Hand over the reins before the beginning of summer, and include any notes, contacts, and records from your year as a student leader.
- Make sure new student leaders are aware of MSFC details regarding ordering supplies, finances, fundraising, program opportunities, etc.
We also write and send out a monthly newsletter to our members with information on current events, a brief history lesson on reproductive justice, and action items. It is fun to compile and allows our members to see us pop up monthly in their inbox as a reminder we are still here!
Nora, MSFC leader in Chicago on recruitment and how having an M1 rep can help your chapter transition leadership smoothly.Read more
Fundraising can be helpful if your chapter wants to attend a conference (such as MSFC’s Conference on Family Planning) or maybe even host one of your own! You can deposit money you’ve fundraised into your Trust Account.
Other MSFC Programs
There are a number of conferences offered by MSFC HQ throughout the year, full of educational sessions, opportunities to network with alumni and members, and more. Be sure to share these opportunities with your members and classmates – they’re not just open to student leaders.
Reproductive Health Externship Program
The RHE Program offers 2+ weeks of shadowing at a partner clinic, with funding available. Since many schools won’t offer the opportunity to observe and learn about abortion care during clinical rotations, the RHE may be a way for you to make up the gaps. We have externship sites around the US and in several other countries. Learn more about the program here.
The PPAG staff warmly welcomed us with full cooperation and hospitality throughout the externship. It was an exciting experience observing the clinical procedures conducted, including youth counselling, family planning, and comprehensive abortion care. Most clients came in worried about how they would be perceived or judged, but they were always received with a smile, and their health and safety was assured. Frank Kiwango, Sweetness Laizer and Yasson Mwakibinga on their RHE experience in Ghana.Read More
Experienced Student Leaders
Experienced Student Leaders (ESLs) are medical students who have previously served as chapter leaders. This role is designed to provide additional support for current chapter leaders, engage in regional organizing, and help promote MSFC’s programs like the conference. Ask your student organizer who the Experienced Student Leader in your state is. Experienced Student Leaders are a great source for advice, especially advice relevant to your local context.
ESLs will also plan events that are open to all members within your state or region.
Currently, the ESL program is operating only in the US.
Testifying makes a difference. It shows our representatives that the stakes of these bills are real, and that it is not just their political reputation on the line, it’s human lives.Rachel Weinstock, MSFC leader at Albert Einstein. Read more
MSFC chapters have engaged in advocacy including supporting or opposing bills at local, state, and national levels; engaging in voter turnout, advocacy within state medical societies, and more. The best way to get started is to contact a local organization. See the Advocacy Guide for suggestions.
Here are some advocacy resources to help get you started. We have lots more to connect you with. Email [email protected] if you need help getting started.
Advocacy Success Stories written by members
Abortion, reproductive justice, and family planning training should be a standard part of all medical school curricula. Improving your school’s curriculum to include these components may be the most important work that your MSFC chapter does, because it benefits future medical students as well. We encourage you to partner with other organizations to make sure reproductive healthcare training is comprehensive, anti-racist, gender-inclusive, and more.
MSFC offers the following resources to help with curriculum reform:
- The Curriculum Reform listserv ([email protected])
- Personalized help from MSFC staff (email [email protected]), who can also connect you with leaders who have worked on curriculum reform before you.
- Additional resources on the website including a strategy guide, sample surveys, content resources, and much more.
Start by reaching out to student organizations and OB/GYN faculty already involved in similar work, who might already have ideas about how to reform the curriculum. Reach out to whoever runs your repro block (or the equivalent) and start inquiring about the curriculum structure if you’re looking to reform the preclinical curriculum. Basically, don’t reinvent the wheel!Becca, MSFC leader at Ohio State University.Read more
Medical Students for Choice is committed to the safety of our members. On occasion, an MSFC member or chapter may experience threats or harassment due to the controversial nature of our work. If you or your chapter receives any harassment, please notify MSFC HQ as soon as possible so we can help you navigate next steps.
Threats: Threats can come in physical, verbal, or written form. Any communication is deemed a “threat” if a reasonable person would interpret the communication as an intention to create the fear of bodily harm. Threats are a rare experience for MSFC chapters but should be taken seriously if they occur.
Harassment: Harassment by mail, email, or in person is the most common type of potential safety issue faced by our chapter leaders. Harassment can include threats, but are most often communications or actions that hinder your efforts by forcing you to turn your energies elsewhere. Examples of harassment include:
- Tearing down or defacing flyers posted to inform your fellow students of an MSFC-sponsored event or meeting.
- Nasty emails on your chapter’s listserv or personally to chapter members.
- Verbal argumentative behavior at an MSFC event (heckling).
Guidelines for Responding to Threats or Harassment
Document the Incident
It is important that you keep a careful record of any incident involving threats or harassment to establish a pattern for future consideration by your school’s administration or security office.
- If the incident occurs at a meeting or event, have those MSFC members who witnessed the incident write up a description of the event and save the reports for campus security. Include the name of the person causing the problem, the general content of the threat or harassing comment, and any other elements of the incident (such as the number of persons involved) that may inform an assessment of the seriousness of the incident.
- If the incident is by online or written communication, save the harassing or threatening message and show it to campus security.
Alert Campus Authorities to the Problem
Once you have documented the incident, you should discuss it with campus authorities, including the student affairs office, and the dean of students. There are two reasons for this:
- It ensures that there is a record of the incident if additional incidents occur and an official response is appropriate.
- It provides context if an incident of harassment escalates to a threatening situation.
Most schools have professionalism standards to which their students must adhere. Behaviors by anti-choice students can often be addressed in the framework of these standards.
Alert your Chapter Members to the Incident
Because any of your chapter members may be exposed to threats or harassment from the same group or individual, officially informing chapter members of the incident is important.
Notify MSFC Headquarters
We are here to support you.
Special Note on Picketing: Picketing is a legally protected activity in most countries where MSFC is active and is not considered to be either a threat or harassment. There are legal parameters around picketing activity in some cities, however, so it would be useful for you to be aware of any “bubble zone” legislation in your town or city that requires picketers to maintain a certain distance. Picketers must generally stay on public property, so they may not be permitted to picket on your campus.