AMSA 2011: An Expert Interview With AMSA President John Brockman

Neil Canavan, MSc

March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011 — Editor's note: Prior to serving as president of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), fourth-year medical student John Brockman served as AMSA's premedical trustee (organizing the first Premedical Leadership Institute), secretary of the AMSA Board of Trustees, and, most recently, vice president of internal affairs. His current term as AMSA president concludes May 1.

Medscape: Isn't being a medical student difficult enough? What compelled you to take on the added responsibility of being AMSA president?

Mr. John Brockman

Mr. Brockman: Well, that actually [is a long story, which] began when my father passed away when I was 8 years old. This left my mother, my sister, and myself without insurance. My family struggled after my father died, but I considered myself lucky because I had so many people advocating on my behalf — most importantly, my grandfather.

When I got to college, the first day I went to a premed orientation and found AMSA, and I was immediately drawn to it. I went to my first conference 7 years ago — at this very hotel — and that's how I discovered what AMSA is really about. When members spoke of healthcare advocacy and advocating for those who don't have medical insurance, it was something that really resonated with my past experience.

In many regards, I think it was AMSA that [made me want] to go to medical school, not only so that I could advocate for my patients, but enabling me to get involved in changing the system in which they receive their healthcare, which is just as important.

After I got into medical school at Case Western [Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio], I had the opportunity to sit on the AMSA board in my second year; in my third year, I had the opportunity to run for president.

Medscape: Advocacy is obviously very important to you. Is AMSA involved in the ongoing healthcare reform debate?

Mr. Brockman: Of course, and there are several aspects that we address. First is awareness of the various provisions themselves, then there's the politics [AMSA has ongoing lobbying efforts], and third is grass-roots organizing.

We're trying hard to educate our members about the changes that are coming, and what potential future changes they can expect. There's really a great deal involved. Remember the Schoolhouse Rock videos when you were a kid — the "I'm just a bill"? You grow up thinking that the president just signs a bill into a law and that's it, we're done, but in reality that's not the case. There's still a lot of work being done at [Health and Human Services], and we're playing an active role in that effort. We're involved at the state level as well.

Medscape: In planning for this meeting, what were the hot topics that members wanted to hear about?

Mr. Brockman: Our members come to this conference first for professional development, so we have sessions about how to do well on the boards and how to get into residency. Beyond those practical considerations, we wanted to highlight global health issues, something our students are very interested in, and which has its own dedicated meeting track. Advocacy has a dedicated track. Also, being near and dear to my heart — and as we have a growing premed population in AMSA — we have planned sessions to address their special needs.

Finally, the part I was most involved with was the choosing of our keynotes and thought leaders. We wanted to get speakers who would not only be provocative in the moment, but who would have a message strong enough so that students would leave here inspired and recharged. In medical school, it's so easy to get lost in the books and burn out — you sometimes forget why you're there.

Medscape: How important is it for med students to be here?

Mr. Brockman: It's incredibly important. For example, when I first came to the AMSA meeting as a premed student, I found myself on a bus going to Lobby Day, and sitting next to me was a student from Case Western. We struck up a conversation, and the unintended result of this bus trip is that it gave me a great in at the medical school. He was able to put in a good word for me based on this single encounter on the bus, and that relationship was entirely due to this conference. So being here is critical. You have this wonderful opportunity to be with fellow medical students who are engaged in things that you're passionate about. It's great for your career, and it's fun!

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