October 19, 2020, 12:57 pm David Mitchell – Michelle Lough, M.D., M.P.H., was working hard to improve people’s health before she earned either of her advanced degrees.
As a student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, Lough co-organized a “white coat die-in” with more than 150 participants to raise awareness of racial bias and violence, and how those issues affect public health. A U.S.-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, Lough also founded a student group that sought to defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Lough, however, wanted to do much more and on a broader scale.
“I’ve always been a community organizer, working from the ground up,” said Lough, a third-year resident at the University of California, San Francisco, Family and Community Medicine program. “To make bigger changes with greater populations, I needed to learn more about policy and politics.”
While she was earning her medical degree at UCLA, Lough also earned her master’s degree in health policy from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. As part of that training, Lough worked as an intern during the 2016-17 academic year for then-Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley, who now is a member of Congress.
“She’s an amazing role model,” Lough said of Pressley, D-Mass., the first Black woman elected to the Boston City Council and the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts.
Lough led community meetings for Pressley’s office as part of efforts to implement policy regarding issues related to urban planning and healthy communities.
“It was gratifying to work in city government and see what that looked like,” said Lough, who hopes to run for office someday. “Talking to constituents was really inspiring to me. We need people who are community-driven.”
Lough’s city hall experience influenced her next grassroots advocacy effort. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured Americans had declined to historic lows by 2016. But in the 2016 election, Republicans retained control of both houses of Congress and won the White House.
“We knew the ACA was going to be on the chopping block,” said Lough, one of 16 residents recently honored with the AAFP Award for Excellence in Graduate Medical Education. “We needed to do something different, so we started a movement to protect our patients.”
Lough and colleagues from her master’s degree program started Protect Our Patients, a national grassroots campaign that drew participation from more than 5,000 health professionals and trainees. The organization hand-delivered letters to every U.S. senator and organized a day of action in January 2017 that included local protests and a Facebook Live event with Democratic senators.
“It was empowering,” said Lough, who is a member of the California AFP’s Committee on the Health of Public.
The plight of uninsured people hits home for Lough, who witnessed her father’s health deteriorate after the electrical engineer lost his job and his health insurance in the dotcom bust. Lough was applying to medical schools when her father died of heart disease at age 66.
“It changes your perspective,” said Lough, who will be a fellow in addiction medicine at UCSF after she completes her residency training in June. “It inspired me to push forward and be an advocate for change.”