Monday, June 7, 2010

Inherently Political: Student Leadership and Legislative Success

By Carrie Runde, 2011 ND Candidate
AANP Student Representive for Bastyr University

Drs. Jamey Wallace and Jane Guiltinan (center) with the entire student
contingent from Bastyr University at the 2010 DC FLI.
Photo by Clark Porter.
This May marked my 3rd year attending the AANP’s DC Federal Legislative Initiative (DC FLI), and I am excited to report that this year’s event was the best by far. I was proud to lead the group of 34 Bastyr ND students, from all years in the program, to Washington, D.C. Our crew had been tirelessly fundraising since last fall, generating over $15,000 to offset the travel and accommodation costs associated with the trip. I am incredibly impressed by the effort all members of the group contributed to our cause. Despite the distance from Seattle and the trip’s proximity to midterm exams, I heard only positive feedback from the Bastyr students who attended. Everyone was so glad to have made the trip, as it was a truly unbelievable learning experience.

When talking to students about participating in the DC FLI, I commonly hear claims that they are uninterested in, or overwhelmed by, general politics. My response to that is simple: the FLI teaches us about specific legislation and political issues pertinent to naturopathic medicine. Once they learn about the politics that directly affect them as students (such as loan repayment programs), as future physicians (like state licensure and scope of practice), and their patients (such as access to supplements), students become interested in the political work of the AANP and our home state affiliates. The first two days of training sessions ignited the students with a curiosity that translated into very effective lobbying on the third day of the DC FLI.

One thing that resounds clearly at each DC FLI is that students have a powerful voice in the legislative process and the future policies of naturopathic medicine. The passion, intelligence, and perspective that we bring to conversations on health care are true mediators for change. The work that we have done in the past is paying off. As AANP President Dr. Carl Hangee-Bauer pointed out in a previous post, this year’s FLI was remarkable because healthcare staffers on Capitol Hill now know the AANP. We spent less time educating them about naturopathic medicine, and more time discussing how we can best be utilized in our nation’s healthcare system. I have specifically experienced this over the last three years in meetings with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s health care staffer, who is encouraged by visits from a positive group of people so dedicated to health and wellness.

The student presence at the FLI is, in my slightly biased estimation, the most important. This year, 100 of the 171 participants were ND students representing four U.S. naturopathic schools! We need to continue to increase our numbers at the event each year. The FLI has a greater political impact because students represent many home states, thus allowing us to deliver our message to as many representatives as possible. The FLI helps students as well. It allows us get outside of our medical school bubbles and into the real environment in which we will someday practice our medicine. Despite the challenges associated with missing class and clinic rotations, the FLI gives a new perspective on naturopathic medicine and recharges students when they return to the daily grind of medical school. The FLI also acts as a catalyst for involvement with the AANP, setting students up to be leaders at our respective schools and to become involved in state legislative work early in their careers.

The work that the AANP does for our profession is invaluable, and my personal goal is to increase student involvement in the organization. The more students that have the opportunity to attend the DC FLI and get involved with the AANP, the stronger the AANP will be in the future. The success of our professional organization has a huge impact on our future as naturopathic physicians, and students are a vital part of the equation. I hope that political work, like that done at the DC FLI, will become part of the naturopathic curricula at all schools because, as Dr. Bastyr was known to say, being a naturopathic physician is inherently political. Each year the FLI leaves me with the oft-quoted Margaret Mead adage in my head: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Carrie is a 3rd year ND student at Bastyr University and is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. Carrie is the Bastyr student representative to the AANP and can be contacted at AANPrep@bastyr.edu.

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