Last month, the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) held its biggest annual advocacy event: DO Day on Capitol Hill. DO Day on Capitol Hill offers DOs and osteopathic medical students the opportunity to advocate for their profession by educating members of Congress about the importance of their field and the most pressing issues they are facing today.
Two MSL alumni and current DO students, Alaa Alghalayini (MSL ’18) and Kelsey Brown (MSL ’18), had the opportunity to attend this exciting event this year. Read on to hear about their trip to Washington, D.C., and how they used their MSL knowledge to make the most of their experiences.
How did you find out about DO Day?
Alaa: There is a national organization called Students of Osteopathic Medicine Association (SOMA), an organization that advocates for the profession and is heavily involved in politics. It is, basically, our inlet into the real world. They host this event every year. Our SOMA reps introduced it to us at the beginning of the year and explained how we could get involved and why it’s so important!
Kelsey: I found out about DO Day on the Hill through LMU-DCOM’s SOMA (Student Osteopathic Medical Association) chapter. Fortunately, my school highly encourages this event, as our Dean is an annual participant as a Tennessee state leader. SOMA extended an open invitation to anyone interested in advocating on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and seeking to represent our school and state in front of Senators and Congressmen/women.
Did you get to meet with any leaders of note?
Alaa: I was newly elected SOMA president for my entire school, so I attended national conferences the same weekend as DO Day; that’s where I met the Surgeon General. He came to speak to us about major health issues and to offer some advice on how to tackle some huge problems as SOMA leaders and future physicians.
DO day was on Tuesday—that’s when we were able to meet with Senators and Congressmen/women of our district (Ohio). I got to meet Sherron Brown, Ohio Senator and possible presidential candidate for 2020. Because the Senators and Congressmen/women are so busy, we met with their representatives, who are able to offer valuable insight into upcoming bills and how their respective offices feel about these bills.
We were advocating for two issues: Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) and the Direct Primary Care Enhancement Act.
- THCGME is a government funded program for residents to be able to complete their residencies at small clinics. This practice helps small communities grow and gives residents better exposure to primary health care. This issue is very important because the current bill is expiring soon, so we advocated to have it renewed for another 5 years.
- The Direct Primary Care Enhancement Act is, in short, a business model in which a few states offer patients with chronic illnesses subscription to their primary health care physicians. This subscription allows patients to see their doctors whenever they need to, without worrying about deductibles. The problem right now is that people are not allowed to use their HSA’s (Health Savings Accounts) to pay for this program. The bill that is being presented seeks to allow people to use their tax-exempt HSA’s to pay for the subscriptions. This bill is extremely important, because it allows patients to see their doctors as frequently as they need to, without worrying about reaching a financial cap.
Kelsey: I had five meetings scheduled for the day: two with TN Senators, Senator Blackburn and Senator Alexander, and 3 with Congressmen for TN. Our first two meetings with the Senators were with their staff members who were in charge of health care policy. Both were very open to the agenda we were presenting. After lunch, I was able to sit down with Senator Phil Roe, MD and speak with him personally on the issues at hand. This was a great opportunity to have direct feedback and interest from a Congressman. Walking into his office, it was hard to hide my excitement when I was greeted by the Congressman himself. My last two meetings of the day were with the staff members of Congressman Fleischmann and Congressman DesJarlais; both were receptive to the proposals.
In which other activities did you get the opportunity to participate?
Alaa: Like I said above, since I am newly elected president, I had the opportunity to attend multiple conferences.The main goal of the conferences was to vote on new legislation to get passed to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), which are like the big dogs of our field. The AOA monitors DO’s, keeps everything in check, and passes new laws. Our role as SOMA leaders (from every school) is to vote on student-written proposals, and, if they pass, they go on to the AOA. The conferences also brought in speakers, like health care lobbyists, AOA representatives, and more. Their goal was to pass on valuable information to bring back to our colleagues at school. They also focus on leadership training, advocating for our profession, and making sure we speak up about problems to, hopefully, instigate change. Based on my experiences, I plan to present to my entire school to pass along the information to my classmates.
Kelsey: In addition to having meetings with state representatives and senators, we were all broken up into teams based on state, then further broken down by districts within our state. I was assigned a state leader, so in addition to speaking with government officials, I spent the day picking the brain of practicing DO physicians and the Dean of LMU-DCOM. There were over 900 osteopathic medical students in attendance, so I tried to mingle with as many as possible. I spoke to multiple physicians from other states and Board Members of the American Osteopathic Association. It was a full day of socializing and meeting new people from all over the US!
What are your main takeaways from the experience?
Alaa: Here’s a quick summary of what I learned:
- How to write proposals;
- How to advocate for health care policies;
- How to be a leader to my school;
- How to address members in political power;
- How important it is to voice our concerns, because we are the future of medicine!
Most importantly, I learned how much bigger medicine is than just studying for exams, and how much we can affect our communities by advocating for our patients. It was so amazing to see thousands of DO’s advocating for the same thing and to see all the support from members of congress and our senators.
Kelsey: My main takeaways are: I am part of a relatively small osteopathic community that is leaning on the osteopathic medical students to advocate for the future of our profession. Osteopathic medicine is a rapidly growing field with focuses on primary practice in rural and under-served areas. The bills proposed will directly effect those communities and the future physicians in the profession.
For example, the Direct Primary Care Act would allow patients to use their Health Savings Accounts to pay for physician visits, rather than billing their insurance company for a basic visit. This would also allow physicians to provide high quality care by being able to focus on treatment and health of the patients. It would also minimize the distraction of charting for the pure benefit to the insurance companies alone.
This experience allowed me the opportunity to have a voice and stand for something that will not only benefit our patients, but will ease physician burnout. It will continue to benefit the osteopathic community for years to come.
My meeting with Congressman Roe was the most meaningful because it was a back-and-forth conversation between medical students and an active government official. That opportunity does not come around too often!
I already had a love for osteopathic medicine, but now I have an even stronger and more momentous passion for osteopathic medicine and the future it has across the country.
Did any of your MSL knowledge come in handy?
Alaa: My MSL knowledge prepared me so well for my current position as SOMA president, without me originally realizing it! I now realize how much better my networking skills are than some of my peers, thanks to my MSL education. On top of networking, it was helpful to have a background in reading legislation and understanding difficult legal jargon; I was able to quickly translate legal terms to my colleagues in a way they could understand.
This experience made me appreciate my MSL degree, because the program gave me the confidence to run for this political position. It also allowed me to be comfortable when dealing with difficult documents.
In addition to the tangible skills I gained from the MSL, there are a lot of intangible skills I gained that I can’t quite pinpoint. I have a much better understanding of real-world issues than many of my colleagues. From knowledge of accounting to how to open a business to healthcare policy to HIPPA to torts, I know my MSL degree will get a lot of use over the next 2 years as president! I plan to host policy debates and get my peers more engaged with the real world. I also plan to host mini workshops for my school that incorporate business, law, and technology with the health care field, because that is lacking tremendously in our education.
This year has made me realize how important my well-rounded, interdisciplinary masters degree is in helping me piece everything together. When running for SOMA president, my MSL is what stood out to people, and it’s what made them realize that I was different than all the other candidates. The MSL really sets me apart from my peers.
Kelsey: Yes, my MSL knowledge came in handy. Both my ability to understand and explain the language of the bills, as well as my confidence to have a voice in meetings can be attributed to my time in the MSL program. The MSL program gave me the legal and business foundation I needed to walk into a conference like this and not feel intimidated by the different professionals in the room. From medical professionals to government officials, I remembered that they work hand in hand, thanks to the MSL.
Extra Tidbit From Kelsey:
Kelsey: After DO Day on the Hill, I signed up to attend the TN State Day on the Hill in Nashville at the end of this month. This day is more focused on issues at a state level, and I think the main agenda item is to discuss how to prevent and decrease physician burnout in the state. This event is also integrated, so both osteopathic (DO) and allopathic (MD) medical schools will be present and speak on behalf of the Tennessee Medical Association and the Tennessee Osteopathic Medical Association.
Also, I was recently selected as Director of Political Affairs for LMU-DCOM’s SOMA chapter. In this position, I am hoping to stay more connected with the activities occurring at the federal and state levels regarding Health Care Policy for both MD and DO professions and sharing that with the SOMA community at my school.
I would have never had the confidence to do any of this if it was not for the MSL program, so I owe many thanks to the MSL program. I talk about my degree frequently with my classmates, and now I feel like I am in the perfect position to combine that education with my current and ongoing medical education.