by Jacob Leary, MD Candidate, Class of 2022, University of Colorado Medical School

Walking into the Capitol Café, the anxiety was palpable as 50 medical students from Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine and the University of Colorado School of Medicine slipped into their white coats to storm the Capitol. Students huddled together, working earnestly to rehearse talking points and understand the language of HB20-1085. As the lunch hour drew to a close, our optimism and confidence grew, but we couldn’t shake feeling nervous to meet with legislators.

Why? Because we wanted to do this right. As representatives of the Colorado Medical Society and our respective academic institutions, we wanted to make them proud of the student doctors we have become thus far. But more important, we came on behalf of the 578 Coloradoans who died in 2017 from complications relating to opioid overdoses, and the thousands of others struggling to achieve pain relief. HB20-1085: Prevention of Substance Use Disorders would expand insurance coverage of physical and occupational therapy visits or acupuncture visits as viable alternatives to prescription opioid medications for pain relief. Many of us have seen tremendous patient responses with these therapeutic avenues, but prohibitive out-of-pocket costs for these types of treatments can leave patients and providers with few options. We also requested that legislators consider providing resources to update the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) so that it can be integrated into existing electronic medical record systems for ease of physician access in order to provide more time for doctors to interact with their patients. Together, these improvements to the current system would strengthen the physician-patient alliance in the fight against the opioid crisis in Colorado.

We hit the ground running in our meetings with House and Senate members. Despite our initial worries over pitching our case to legislators, we spoke as convincing and passionate leaders advocating for our future patients. Republican or Democrat, the legislators generously gave us their time and took our concerns seriously. They were genuinely excited to spend time talking with students. When they disagreed with an aspect of our pitch, it was amazing to see the courage students showed in challenging legislators to justify their stances and to reconsider their positions. Although members from each party took issue with certain details of the bill, the desire for collaboration and a mutually agreeable solution was evident. In a political landscape where aggressive discourse is now the norm, we found it refreshing to see collaborative efforts.

In talking with other students who attended, I was told this was one of the most invigorating things they had done as medical students. They felt empowered to know that legislators were so approachable and that they actually wanted to hear from us to help inform their policy decision-making. It was impressive to see the excitement and enthusiasm evident in students’ conversations with legislators, and many are already working to make next year an even bigger success with a focus on access to quality health care. Between adjusting to the fast-paced medical curriculum, studying for board exams and completing clinical rotations, it can be difficult to encourage medical students to participate in policy and advocacy work. But we come anyway because we care – because we know how important it is to show up and be heard, and to build relationships with the people who influence how our future practice takes shape.

In the rapidly changing landscape of medicine, it is imperative that we be at the forefront of shaping the development of health care policy so that we can lend our voices in defense of our patients and of ourselves as practitioners. With the emergence of public insurance options, glaring inequalities in access to care, and staggering health care costs that continue to rise, we are becoming physicians in one of the most exciting and consequential periods in health care history. Engagement now as students trains us to be confident and passionate legislative activists long into our future careers. As the current CMS Board of Directors member representing the Medical Student Component, I feel extremely privileged to serve an organization that continuously strives toward excellence in support of patients and physicians across our great state.

Categories: Communications, Colorado Medicine, Resources, Initiatives, Advocacy, Students