PAMED’s Advocacy Day: Focus on Student Loan Program

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An enthusiastic group of 15 medical students and residents gathered in Harrisburg on April 28-29 to explain to lawmakers how a more robust loan forgiveness program could keep more physicians in the commonwealth.

The annual Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s (PAMED) Medical Student and Resident/Fellow sections, introduces medical students and residents to the political process. They learn about key issues from PAMED governmental affairs staff before meeting state legislators at the Capitol.

This year’s Advocacy Day focused primarily on medical student loan forgiveness.

Seven states that surround Pennsylvania have more generous loan forgiveness programs. Gov Tom Corbett’s proposed state budget includes increased funding for student loan forgiveness and additional residency slots. The legislature is currently debating the budget and will likely finalize it by late June.

Students who attended Advocacy Day explained to legislators that remaining competitive with other states would help Pennsylvania retain the many physicians it trains, and address one of the issues that contribute to a physician shortage.

“Loan forgiveness is a big, big topic for all of us,” said Darshan Shah, a second-year medical student at The Commonwealth Medical College and Medical Student Trustee-Elect PAMED. “[Politics] is not something we’re accustomed to. But Advocacy Day shows us that, even as medical students, we can make a difference in medicine.”

Mia Mattioli, a third-year medical student at Penn State Hershey and Vice Chair of PAMED’s Medical Student Section said: “Medicine and politics are not independent from each other. I think it’s really important for students to get involved early in your career and witness how to advocate for your profession and for their future patients.”

Advocacy Day began on Monday night, April 28, with a meeting with Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna), chair of the House Insurance Committee. On Tuesday, April 29, medical students/residents gathered for breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and a medical student loan funding panel discussion with Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) and Martin Raniowski, deputy secretary for Health Planning.

At the Capitol, students/residents held private meetings with Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Montgomery), Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie), Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh), Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks) and with a member of Sen. Jake Corman’s staff (R-Centre).

Medical students and residents appreciated the universally positive response from legislators, although it was somewhat tempered by a reality check on how difficult it will be to keep the additional funds proposed by Gov. Corbett in the budget for the next fiscal year.

At lunch, Patriot-News political editor John Micek provided an overview of the upcoming mid-term elections and some other interesting stories that are impacting the state political landscape.