As pre-medical students, we understand the time and dedication required to become a healthcare professional. The rigorous coursework and community outreach experiences we accomplish ensure that we are well-rounded individuals. As future physicians, we play an integral role in our nation’s healthcare system.

However, it seems many pre-medical students are not aware of the structure of the system they want to be a part of. I interviewed several undergraduate (pre-health) and medical school students to inquire about their opinions on healthcare legislation and politics. Overall, majority of the answers I received were either vague or failed to have a strong basis of reasoning. Although these students were striving to become physicians, most seemed to lack awareness in affairs that could directly affect their roles in healthcare.

In addition to learning the sciences and humanities, pre-medical students should also dedicate time to studying issues within the US healthcare system. Learning what kind of legislation is passed, how it affects them as both physicians and patients, and learning about how to overcome some of our nation’s biggest healthcare concerns is imperative. Familiarizing yourself with the legal and business aspects of medicine can help you to become more active in shaping our nation’s healthcare policies.

Here are a few examples of questions that are still under heavy political debate:

  1. How can we guarantee universal access to healthcare without government interference in consumer choice or private practice?
  2. How do we limit the spiraling costs of healthcare without reducing the quality or access of healthcare?
  3. Should everyone be required by law to have health insurance?

Today, the U.S. healthcare system seems to be in shambles for many different reasons. Major stakeholders in healthcare (such as pharmaceutical and insurance companies) use large lobbies to influence the ratification of legislation. Politicians refrain from endorsing controversial legislation to please their constituents, even if it would improve healthcare. In addition to the political confusion, the sky-rocketing price of healthcare, a larger aging population, and discrepancy in the quality of healthcare constitute just a fraction of the problems within our healthcare system.

To better understand your nation’s healthcare system, spend some time studying the stakeholders and political processes that control it. This could be by majoring/minoring in subjects such as Health Systems Management or Global Health Studies. You can also review news and journal articles detailing how healthcare legislation has changed to better reflect the needs of today’s society, what impedes healthcare reforms, and what kind of strategies have proven to be effective.

These clinics often have insufficient funding and high patient volumes. The populations attending these clinics are almost always the most hard-hit by changes in healthcare legislation. This could include loss of healthcare insurance, rise in the price of medication, or loss of funding for a healthcare clinic that is vital to a community.

Familiarizing yourself with the healthcare system is only the first step. As future physicians and patients, it is important for us to assume a sentinel role over the healthcare policies that are passed. The ratification of healthcare legislation could prove to be the difference between millions being uninsured or the right to free healthcare. Writing to your Congressman/ Congresswoman to discuss their stance on healthcare, protesting/promoting legislation, and educating others about the healthcare system are some examples of ways to remain proactive.

As future healthcare professionals, the importance of understanding our role and influence in healthcare is invaluable. Even a general understanding of pressing issues is enough to give voice to our interests. To truly provide the utmost care for our patients, we cannot limit ourselves to simply practicing medicine. Instead, embracing a holistic attitude of healing by reforming our healthcare system would be in the best interest of both physicians and their patients.