Voting is a core exercise of democracy, and an exercise that, historically, physicians have less commonly participated in than the general population. This may partially be due to the rigorous schedules of physicians and trainees, who often work long shifts with little flexibility.
IU School of Medicine student Lucy Brown is working to change this reality and promote voting among trainees, physicians and patients. Brown voted for the first time in the 2016 election.
“The 2016 election occurred right around the time I turned 18,” Brown said. “Those voting for the first time, like myself, saw current systems profoundly challenged on both sides.”
Health policy is a top concern for 22% of voters, and social determinants of health have been established as an important part of a person’s overall health. This is the argument that social conditions, such as income, where one lives, access to food, and even access to voting, deeply affect individual well-being.
As the 2020 election approaches, students are witnessing how their training and future career can be affected by policy. They are channeling that energy into encouraging civic engagement.
“We are working really hard to make it easier for people to vote this year.” Brown said. “Even with efforts to promote early voting, many will still need to vote in-person on election day, so we worked with school leaders to extend the Time-Away form deadline for Election Day by one week to give students more leeway with planning around their schedules.”
Additionally, Brown and classmates created an Instagram account, @MOTV_at_IUSM, where they are encouraging students to create and share their voting plan.
“Making a plan to vote tends to make the behavior more cognitively accessible,” Brown said. “That way, when Election Day arrives, you’re ready to go.”
While the absentee ballot application deadline has already passed, individuals can still send in ballots up until 12 p.m. on Election Day. Most state websites have a voter registration portal where individuals can check whether their ballot has been received.
Brown helps lead voting efforts alongside fellow IU School of Medicine student Ruben Geeraert, who is the president of the American Medical Student Association. One of these is the Healthy Democracy Campaign at IU, which is organized by two national initiatives, Med Out the Vote and VotER. This campaign involved a competition among medical schools around the country to register individuals to vote.
Through the VotER initiative, Indiana University School of Medicine was able to register 35 people and helped 50 people request their absentee ballots. In the entire state of Indiana, 304 people were registered to vote and 263 requested their absentee ballots.
The Healthy Democracy Campaign constitutes a broader call for normalizing civic engagement as a dimension of healthcare. It also exists to promote the idea that systems become stronger when more physicians, trainees and patients participate in the democratic process.
Now that the deadline has passed for voter registration in Indiana, Brown and Geeraert are focusing on more nonpartisan efforts, including voter mobilization by creating a Marion County Election Candidate Guide, hosting a virtual Presidential Debate Watch Party and encouraging IU School of Medicine students to power the polls. In 2018, over a quarter of poll workers were 70 or older.
Brown recently completed her poll-worker training to be a judge. When she showed up, she saw that she was the only volunteer under 60. This is significant because older individuals are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19.
“Whether we like it or not, we don’t get to practice medicine in a vacuum,” Brown said. “Policy decisions affect how we can work and what we are allowed to do as future physicians. More importantly, health policy affects our patients. COVID has shone a light on the deep inequities in our social safety net and our healthcare infrastructure.”
Election 411: Everything you need to know on voting!
Wed., Oct. 28 | 12:15p.m. – 1:00 p.m. EDT
Have questions about absentee ballots, where to vote or how to research what’s on your ballot? Attend this virtual open Q&A session with the IU School of Medicine Voter Outreach Coalition! Register now.
Election Day Office Hours
Tues., Nov. 3, 12 p.m.-2 p.m. EDT
Ask questions about voting, share how you are feeling – this is an open forum for IU School of Medicine students. Zoom
Post-Election Processing Sessions
Join us the week after the election to check in, ask questions, and share your thought and feelings on the election. Final dates and times will be in the 11/2/20 MD Student Newsletter.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Susanna focuses on communication for Medical Student Education, Faculty and Staff. She is also working toward her doctorate in health communication at IUPUI.