AMSA On Call
  • A Word from AMSA's 2014-2015 National President

    Britani Kessler, DOHey AMSA! This is Britani Kessler, your new National President. My first month in office has been a whirlwind of activity. However, it is nothing compared to the past 4 years of hard work at Nova Southeastern University. I attended commencement a few weeks ago and I’m still taken back that I’m now a DO – a reality that I couldn’t fathom when I first started on this journey.

    Coming into this position, I have had the time to really reflect on my experiences both as a physician-in-training and as an AMSA member. I have been a member since my first year as a premedical student, not really knowing how I could get my head out of the books and engage in something other than my studies. Joining AMSA and meeting other students like me and having the opportunity to do lobby days and other events really opened my eyes to all that students can do to advocate for themselves and for their future patients. The years that you spend in medical school go by so quickly and you come out of it a different person than when you started. They were probably some of the toughest years of my life but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. These experiences make you stronger and you come out of it with friendships that will last a lifetime because of all that you have gone through together. I mean, when you are eating mac and cheese out of a cardboard container at 1am, desperately trying to come up with acronyms for obscure disease processes, you become close with your fellow classmates. My point is that as physicians-in-training, enjoy the limited time that you have as students. Open yourself up to a world outside of books, meet new students from around the country, and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourselves and future patients now. I was able to do this through AMSA and I believe that all students should engage in any way that they find meaningful.

    With that in mind, I am very excited about our upcoming events! We have our Chapter Officer Recruitment and Engagement (CORE) training coming up at the end of July. This will be the first time we are hosting Chapter Officer training completely virtually, so I expect to see all of you new Chapter Officers to participate! We are also in the works are our two Fall Conferences on global health and changing the culture of medicine. These are the perfect opportunities for you to get involved and learn how to be an empowered student. If you have any questions about these opportunities, just ask! My e-mail is

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  • Medical Student Leaders: What You Need to Know to be an Effective Agent of Change at Your Medical School

    Written by Stephen R. Smith, MD, MPH, Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and founding member of the National Physicians Alliance.

    How can you be an effective change agent at your medical school?

    First of all, don’t underestimate yourself. Students have a tremendous potential to bring about change in a medical school, but often don’t realize it. Whenever a delegation of medical students asked to meet with the dean at Brown, I immediately got a summons from the dean to tell him what was going on. Deans meet with faculty day in and day out and it never fazes them. But when a group of students meet with the dean, it sends the dean’s office into a tizzy.

    I used the words delegation of students. It’s much better to go in with one or two other medical students. Alone, you’re “a” student. When it’s two or three of you, suddenly you become “the” students. Here are some strategies to bring about the change you want to see at your medical school:

    1. Don’t underestimate how much power and influence medical students can have, individually and collectively through the American Medical Student Association (AMSA)

    2. Effective ways to approach your dean:

    - Send email briefly laying out reasons for wanting a meeting
    - Go as a “delegation” of 2–3 students
    - Honor the culture of the med school, then explain why change is needed
    - Focus on professionalism
    - Use real examples of problem areas with conflict of interest (COI)
    - Point out how other peer med schools have stronger policies
    - Be familiar with the process used to develop and approve policies
    - Ask the dean to refer these issues to the appropriate policy-making group
    - Ask the dean to invite your delegation to that group to present and discuss
    - Follow-up with a thank-you email to the dean, publicize the meeting outcome

    3. Tactics at the policy-setting committee level:

    - Reiterate the arguments presented to the dean
    - Bring copies of policies at peer institutions
    - Get a subcommittee formed with student representation to further delve into the issues, draft new policies, and make recommendations to the full committee
    - Create a grid showing model policies and comparing your school’s policies to them and present this at the subcommittee meeting - Bring authoritative materials (e.g., AAMC Task Force Report, Pew Expert Panel recommendations to the subcommittee)
    - Distribute the toolkit from Community Catalyst relating to the policy area under consideration to the subcommittee members
    - Be present when the subcommittee makes its report to the full committee, thank the subcommittee for striving to safeguard integrity and promote professionalism and how proud you are to be a part of that process

    The most difficult and most important part of the process is taking the first step. That’s what leadership is all about. That’s why you’re reading this today. You are the leaders. You can do it. I’m sure.

    This piece was presented during the NPA’s March 2014 National Grand Rounds, “Agents of Change: Empowering Students to be Leaders in Conflict of Interest Policy Reform,” at the AMSA Convention in New Orleans. The webcast recording is available here along with full National Grand Rounds Series Archive. These events are offered as part of the Partnership to Advance Conflict-free Medical Education (PACME). This partnership and related materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin.

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  • Activism and Advocacy: How Medical Students at the 1969 AMSA Convention Changed the History of Healthcare Advocacy in the United States

    Written by Stephen R. Smith, MD, MPH, Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and founding member of the National Physicians Alliance. NPA is a close ally with AMSA and is where medical students will find an inspiring professional home after graduating from medical school. For more information, please visit

    The first American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Convention I attended—it was actually called Student American Medical Association (SAMA) back then—was in 1969. It was an amazing time. The organization had just recently completely dissociated itself with the American Medical Association (AMA), fired the previous executive director, asserted the pre-eminence of student leadership in the organization’s operations, and set a new, progressive course for the group.

    I came into that convention with a crazy idea to create a domestic Peace Corps for doctors where they could meet their military draft obligations by practicing in underserved communities in the United States through the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service. I took the idea to the House of Delegates of SAMA where it passed by an over 2/3 majority as Resolution 4A. Working with two other med students, Chip Avery and Brian Biles, we got Brian’s Congressman, Rep. William Roy, himself a physician, to sponsor a bill in the House that would eventually be signed into law by President Nixon establishing the National Health Service Corps.

    I tell that story to make a few points about student activism and advocacy. First of all, I want to be sure you all know what an amazing organization AMSA is. If you ever read the Dance of Legislation—a book about the creation of the National Health Service Corps, written by Eric Redman, a staffer to Senator Warren Magnuson—you’ll see how much the voice of medical students through SAMA mattered. It still does.

    Second, I want to emphasize how much you, as an individual, can also do. I was only a 1st-year medical student when I introduced my resolution to the House of Delegates. But don’t be a lone wolf, either. You need collaborators and allies. If it wasn’t for Brian Biles and Chip Avery, my resolution wouldn’t have gone any further.

    Last, treasure the personal connections you’ll make in your journey of activism. I’m still connected with many of my former SAMA colleagues—what we now call OATS—“Old AMSA Types”—through the National Physicians Alliance, which is where medical students will find an inspiring professional home after graduating from medical school.

    This piece was presented during the NPA’s March 2014 National Grand Rounds, “Agents of Change: Empowering Students to be Leaders in Conflict of Interest Policy Reform,” at the AMSA Convention in New Orleans. The webcast recording is available here along with full National Grand Rounds Series Archive. These events are offered as part of the Partnership to Advance Conflict-free Medical Education (PACME). This partnership and related materials were made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin.

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  • An Open Letter to Future Physicians

    by Mailet Lopez, Founder/CEO of

    Dear Future Physicians,

    You will be the most important person in the world to her.

    You will be the last thing she thinks about when she goes to sleep and the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up. She will cry about what you tell her, and dream about what she wanted you to say instead. She will be angry when you don’t listen to her and furious when you don’t call when you say you will. She probably won’t tell you how much you mean to her and how she hangs on every word you say, because she most likely won’t realize it herself. She’ll hear about other relationships and may wish that yours was more like the others – and when you break up, she will be thrilled. To be honest, she may never want to have to see you again.

    You can probably handle that – we’ve all dealt with breakups before. The only difference this time is that it won’t happen just once. It’s going to happen hundreds – maybe thousands –of times, for the rest of your life. Maybe even multiple times a day.

    Why? Because this is the responsibility that you bear as a physician. You may deliver the news of pregnancy, or you may deliver the news of death. You may be the very first person to tell someone that they have stage four cancer or the very first person to tell them that they have entered remission. No matter what type of physician you may be, and what type of news you are delivering, you become the single most important person in the world to your patients because you are there at the start of their journey, you are at the helm of their survival.

    I speak from experience – not as a doctor, but as a cancer survivor. I was “her”– a stage 2 breast cancer patient – and as soon as I heard the words “you have cancer,” my surgeon became one of the most important people in the world to me (although I had no idea at the time). I longed for him to tell me the words that many of us fighters often dream of – “the cancer is gone.” I was the definition of an empowered patient, and, unfortunately, my doctor didn’t trust me. He doubted the information that I came to him with, and I could tell in the way that he spoke to me that he thought I was “wrong” and it wouldn’t work. Six years later, and here I am - healthy and committed to sharing my story.

    My negative experience with my doctor shouldn’t disappoint you or scare you, it should empower you. You will have an undeniable impact on so many lives, which, for many of you, is why you decided to go into this field in the first place.

    Last month, my team and I attended the American Medical Student Association’s annual convention, where I introduced my website,, to future physicians. These students opened my eyes to what the future of the doctor-patient relationship will look like. The time I spent with them reassured me that the next wave of doctors are better armed than many practicing physicians today. Through my conversations with them, we were able to narrow down a few tips that can better equip future physicians for the human side of a clinical diagnosis:

    1) Communicate Effectively – As the face of the diagnosis, your words are extremely powerful. Using words like “us” and “we” can show your patients that you are on their team and that they are not alone from the very beginning. While you are still in school, practice delivering a diagnosis with your peers and help each other figure out exactly what, and how, to deliver life-changing news.

    2) Understand the Empowered Patient – Being an empowered patient is easier than ever now, with sites like IHadCancer making it extremely simple for survivors, fighters and supporters to connect with exactly the type of person they are looking for. Your patients will come in prepared with questions, comments, concerns and ideas. When this happens to you, remember that this information-sharing is not happening to spite you as the doctor — there is a certain sense of assurance that only someone who has been through it can provide for a patient. They are coming to you with this information to help you beat cancer together as a team, not to go against your recommendations.

    3) Take Advantage of Technology – Technology and medicine have always gone hand-in-hand. You may know about the latest advances in treatment and trials, but there are simpler technologies that are also extremely powerful. Find resources that you trust so that you can provide your patients with a “first step,” instead of sending them out of your office and into the scary world of Google and WebmD. Whether It’s or something else, if you give them somewhere to start, they will be more empowered throughout their journey and immediately realize that they are not alone.

    4) Put Yourself In The Patient’s Shoes – If it was your life on the line, would you choose the treatment options that you are recommending? Some patients may ask you that question, or want you to think of them as your significant other, child, parent, etc. Be prepared to hear these sorts of questions and do your best to give an honest answer.

    If you master each of these concepts, you will be better armed than any MCAT score, medical school acceptance or school professor may have you believe. The empowered patient movement is here, and isn’t going anywhere, but right now you have the power to lead the new wave of empowered doctors.

    How else can you be prepared for the doctor-patient relationship? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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  • Call for Programming

    Did you attend AMSA's Annual Convention in New Orleans? Have a great idea for a future programming session? Know someone who would make a perfect speaker and can motivate future physicians? Submit your program submissions for consideration. Please read the abstract instructions and guidelines to ensure your application is complete.

    All program abstracts must be submitted via the online abstract submission form. All fields must be complete in order to be considered. Deadline is June 8, 2014.

    AMSA’s convention programming will offer specialized tracks that will surely be of interest to all participants. All programs are typically 50 minutes in length. The programming tracks for 2015 are:

    Advocacy—intended for the budding physician-leader to learn the most innovate ways to champion and advocate for their future patients. Suggested topics could include disparities in health care access, LGBT issues, grassroots lobbying, healthcare communication and inequalities in the United States.

    Career and Professional Skills Development—intended to be the one-stop shop for all physicians-in-training, regardless of where they are in their journey, to support their holistic professional development. Suggested topics include the admissions process for medical school and/or residency; reflective and technical writing workshops, including coverage of writing techniques for creating effective personal statements and CVs; learning strategies, study skills and test-taking tips; communication, team dynamics, and conflict management/resolution; selecting the right program; and career path options.

    International Health—intended for global-minded individuals who see their careers expanding beyond borders. Suggested topics could include HIV/AIDS, clinical and research exchanges, health care systems abroad and medical collaboration in a global context.

    Professionalism, Wellness, & Society—intended to ensure that future physicians recognize the value of professionalism and aid in the development of a healthy work-life balance. Suggested topics include ethical practices in patient care, challenges to professionalism, societal attitudes toward healthcare, diversity and workforce issues, and strategies to maintain wellness throughout life.

    Public Health—intended for those interested in a broader understanding of the way the society we live in affects our health. Suggested topics could include preventive care, environmental health, obesity epidemic or caring for a multi-cultural society.

    The above suggested topics are not intended to be inclusive of the programming tracks. If you have a program but are not certain to which track it belongs, please submit the abstract and let the Convention Program Selection Committee (CPSC) make that determination. 

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  • Concierge Medicine

    Concierge medicine has become increasingly popular in recent years. These physicians are frustrated with the health care system and want to offer their patients a better alternative.

    According to a 2013 compensation report by medical resource company Medscape, 7% of family doctors, 7% of internists and 4% of pediatricians are cash-only practices. These physicians charge monthly membership fees, similar to a gym membership. Appointments are longer, lab work is included, and medication is offered at cheaper rates. With this model, doctors are able to see fewer patients, provide better care, and still make the same, if not more money. 

    According to Concierge Medicine Today (yes, there is already a trade magazine dedicated to the industry!), there are 5,500 concierge practices across the country. About 2/3 of these practices charge less than $135 per month. 

    Is concierge medicine something you would consider after graduation? Very interested to hear from our members on this topic. 

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  • Medical Humanities Institute

    By Aliye Runyan, M.D.
    AMSA Education and Research Fellow

    The AMSA Medical Humanities Institute was held the first weekend of April, bringing 24 medical and pre-medical students from around the country to AMSA headquarters just outside of D.C.

    The three-day workshop highlighted the importance of the narrative in a patient's history, provider-patient communication, reflective writing for well-being of both patients and providers, and skills for maintaining balance in medical training, including yoga and meditation. The institute keynote (for the second year in a row), was Rita Charon, director of the Department of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, and founder of the field of narrative medicine. She instructed the group through a writing exercise, spoke about the importance of listening to the patient, and explained her process of shared notes with her patients, where patients are able to edit and contribute to their medical history and plan throughout.

    Other sessions included an overview of humanities in medical education with Gretchen Case from the University of Utah, a poetry workshop with nurse and poet Veneta Masson, a writing and film session with Linda Raphael from George Washington University, expressive writing with Nancy Morgan from the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown, and meditation / yoga therapy with instructors from the Beloved Yoga Studio in Reston, Virginia.

    Overall, the students had a wonderful experience and a renewed sense of community that they will take back to their universities to begin projects in the medical humanities - to create awareness and build knowledge amongst both peers and faculty of the skill set which humanities provides to medical care.

    The institute was generously sponsored by the Arnold P Gold Foundation and the Brown University Department of Emergency Medicine.

    "One of the biggest things I took away from the institute was the idea that swinging the pendulum of medicine back towards the human element will require not only bringing medical humanities aspects to clinics and practitioner training programs, but doing so in a way that still fits into the current standards of performance and improvement evaluations. It's also our responsibility to call attention to what we measure, how, and why, in hopes that one day the standards won't be complete without what we are now desperately struggling to include." - Ronald Canepa

    "Too often, we take for granted the experiences and skills most likely to change the course of our professional lives. By attending the institute, I refined my understanding of healing as an art, rather than purely a science." - Ajleeta Sangtani

    Photo by Lorenzo Sewanan

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  • AMSA Supports Dr. Murthy Appointment for U.S. Surgeon General

    AMSA, representing almost 40,000 physicians-in-training in the United States, supports the appointment of Dr. Vivek Murthy for U.S. Surgeon General. Dr. Murthy was a member of AMSA during his medical training.

    Nominated by President Barack Obama, Dr. Vivek Murthy has garnered intense opposition from the National Rifle Association and its supporters for his long-time support of increased gun regulations for private owners in the United States.

    Guns are involved in about 85 deaths each day in this country. Each year, more than 60,000 people suffer nonfatal injuries from guns.

    According to AMSA National President Dr. Nida Degesys, "As the founder of Doctors for America and a former emergency room physician, he has dedicated himself to expanding access of affordable health care and advocating for his patients. The role of the U.S. Surgeon General should be to advocate on behalf of a public health crisis, such as gun violence. With his past experience and insight into the crisis, AMSA believes Dr. Murthy is ready to become ‘the nation’s physician.’”

    AMSA urges the enactment of effective federal violence prevention legislation which calls for a ban on the sale, manufacture, importation, ownership and possession of guns in the United States, except for police, military and hunting purposes. The organization also encourages further studies on violence as a public health emergency.

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  • Newly Elected AMSA National Leaders

    Britani Kessler, fourth year medical student at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, will begin serving her term as AMSA National President on May 1, 2014. Kessler will work full-time at AMSA’s national office, Sterling, Virginia, where she will chair the Board of Trustees, represent almost 40,000 physicians-in-training, maintain alliances with other organizations and visit AMSA chapters across the country. 

    “AMSA is an exceptional organization that inspires a community of future physicians through education and advocacy,” says Kessler. “I’m honored and excited to serve as national president and plan on focusing on medical student debt and AMSA's Just Medicine campaign. I look forward to working with AMSA members across the country and helping them to realize their power as members of the medical community. The face of medicine is ever-changing and our members need to stay informed and active. As the future of medicine, we know that changes must be made and I believe our exceptional programming and wonderful leaders will accomplish so much over the coming year."

    At the recent AMSA Annual Convention, Deborah Vozzella Hall, third year medical student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, was elected President-Elect. She will serve for one year before becoming National President on May 1, 2015. Hall is currently AMSA’s Vice President for Internal Affairs and has previously served as National Secretary and co-director for AMSA’s Health Care for All Campaign.

    Newly elected members of the 2014-2015 AMSA Board of Trustees:

    President: Britani Kessler, Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine
    President-Elect: Deborah Vozzella Hall, University of Connecticut School of Medicine
    Vice President for Internal Affairs: Kelly Thibert, Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine
    Vice President for Membership: Tripp Hines, ETSU Quillen College of Medicine
    Vice President of Program Development: Perry Tsai, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Vice President of Leadership Development: Sahar Barfchin, University of Connecticut School of Medicine
    Secretary: Joshua Weinstock, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University
    Graduate Trustee: Vacant
    International Trustee: Janell Johnson, Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara
    Premedical Trustee: Isaiah Cochran, Waynesburg University
    Immediate Past President: Nida Degesys, MD
    The New Physician Student Editor: Luke Messac, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
    Ex-officio member: Joshua Caulfield, IOM, AMSA Executive Director

    2014-2015 AMSA Fellowship Position:

    Education & Research Fellow: Rachel Glassford, graduate student at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University

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  • Virtual Cadavers in Training

    The first time you touch a cadaver is unforgettable for most medical students. But across the country, future physicians are beginning to use virtual cadavers. Is the experience the same as feeling an actual human body, skin, and organs?

    Virtual cadavers range from a simpler tablet app to a large 3-D dissection table that are build by Web designers and come from scanning an actual cadaver. The technology is improving every day and it allows students to study 24-7, whereas many cadaver labs host limited hours on campus.

    But there are limitations as well. With a virtual cadaver you can’t move a muscle and look underneath it or get the chance to feel the internal organs. But advocates for the technology say that virtual cadavers are simply an addition to the traditional training and won’t replace actual cadavers.

    Have you used a virtual cadaver? Tell us about the experience. Do you think using virtual cadavers will make medical training better?

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