by Jessica Reid and Neal Tambe, USC Medical Student

The 2011 ‘Rx for Survival’ conference held at the George Washington University campus in Washington D.C. brought together medical and other health professional students from across the country to learn about social justice and medical advocacy. Organized by a team of dedicated medical student leaders, the conference provided a forum for students of various interests to learn from more veteran medical advocates on how to most effectively focus our efforts for social change. The central aim of Physicians for Social Responsibility is to improve the healthcare of our national community, and the organization’s motto of ‘preventing what we cannot cure’ was woven through the plethora of subjects addressed by panels and plenaries of expert speakers.

The conference itself addressed many national and global health concerns – ranging from the realistic effects of a nuclear power plant disaster, to the toxic chemicals contained in everyday plastics, as well as specific dangers encountered within the healthcare industry. Eager to provide more than simply ‘the facts,’ student leaders organized brainstorming sessions. These discussions allowed participants to voice their ideas, which led to the creation of more focused methods of affecting change. Ideas included specific actions to help move hospitals into the “green era,” and enlisting the Deans of various medical schools to urge President Obama to re-evaluate the nation’s stance on nuclear power. Each school’s chapter representatives have returned to their respective areas of the country to implement realistic ideas to improve the community and engage other health professional students in the process.

Student PSR (SPSR) is still a relatively small organization, with concentrated pockets of passionate student advocates around the country. In order to provide a comprehensive perspective on the national issues, nurses, doctors, public health workers, and other health care professionals (including PSR-LA’s own Executive Director, Martha Dina Argüello) were brought in to provide information, unique viewpoints, and inspiration for action. The speakers were not only experienced individuals in the medical field, but also in the realm of local and/or national political advocacy. With the goal of educating the next generation of physician advocates, these speakers helped prove to enthusiastic students that it is possible to integrate social advocacy into our current and future careers.

We at SPSR-USC had a wonderful experience at the conference meeting other motivated students, listening to informed and insightful presentations, and brainstorming for potential project ideas in the Los Angeles area. Together with PSR-LA, we hope to attract more interest to an organization that is helping students in the health professional field inject a much-needed medical voice into the community.

Jessica Reid and Neal Tambe are first year medical students at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and are the Co-Presidents of the Keck SPSR Chapter. They attended SPSR’s “Rx for Survival” conference in April 2011.