Advocacy work: The key to unlocking change

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Jenna Mewburn is a 3rd year medical student at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney and Secretary of the Australian Medical Student’s Association (AMSA)’s Rural Health Committee. She graduated from the University of Sydney in 2013 with a Bachelor of Medical Science (Physiology), and is a former resident of the Women’s college (2011-2013).

The fields of science and medicine are wide and varied, catering to a diverse range of passions amongst those studying within them. Irrespective of our differences as young scientists and future doctors, one aspect that I believe should be fundamental to our endeavours, particularly as educated young people, is that of advocacy. If we want the fields we have immersed ourselves within to evolve, we must work to encourage the change we would like to see.

Everyone’s passions and interests are different, and advocacy can occur across a range of platforms. I am by no means an old hand at advocacy work, and like most of you reading this article I am pretty fresh to the game. This year however, I have been fortunate to be a part of the AMSA Rural Health Committee. AMSA is the peak representative body for Australian medical students, with advocacy being central to the organisation. Involvement with AMSA rural health has facilitated many opportunities to advocate for rural health on many different levels, including through social media, media campaigns, MP letter writing campaigns and policy writing. This is an organisation run by students, for students, and it has been incredible to see what a group of passionate and driven young people can do when they work together towards a common goal.

 

Advocacy work can take on many different shapes and forms. At the crux of it however, is simply standing up for what you believe in. So if you’re interested in advocating on an issue that you’re passionate about, here is some advice based on my experiences over the last few years:

  1. Educate yourself – If it’s an issue that you’re passionate about, chances are that you’re already well informed. Even so, strive to know more and remain up to date with current affairs and literature in the field. Why? It is difficult to generate change in a field if you do not understand it and the factors that influence it. Furthermore, there are always going to be people and organisations that disagree with your viewpoints, with this often being the result of the parties being uninformed on the issue. From experience, there is no better contribution to a discussion on the topic than a well-informed and rational one.
  1. Get amongst social media – Social media is an advocacy gold mine. Discussion around a range issues occurs across all platforms, and provides a great opportunity to engage with, learn about, educate on, and discuss your passions. It also allows you to network with key stakeholders, public figures and other likeminded individuals. If you don’t already have twitter, I would strongly encourage you to invest!
  1. Affiliate yourself with an organisation – Not just any organisation, but one that appropriately aligns with your advocacy interests. Whilst not essential, I have found working with an organisation a more successful way to create change, as well as allowing me to up-skill, challenge myself within a supportive environment, and to learn from other like-minded individuals.
  1. Don’t be afraid to jump into the deep end – This year I have challenged myself on the advocacy front more than ever, with many advocacy firsts.I’ll be honest with you – more often than not, I felt completely out of my depth.The satisfaction of knowing you have challenged yourself whilst advocating for something that you’re passionate about however, makes it all worthwhile. It keeps the fire burning, and is what has and will continue to drive me to continue my involvement in advocacy.

I would encourage you all to challenge yourself to make a difference. Whether it is through sharing a relevant article on twitter or writing a letter to your local MP. You could start a petition, or volunteer with an organisation relevant to your cause. Without advocacy our professions and fields of interest will remain stagnant, so get amongst it and encourage change you would like to see.

 

 

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