2012 National Conference

Students Push for Less Debt, Enhanced Educational Opportunities

August 01, 2012 05:55 pm Matt Brown Kansas City, Mo. –

Lowering medical student debt and enhancing educational opportunities available to medical students were two of the major themes medical students focused on during the AAFP National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students here on July 26-28.

Jerry Abraham, M.P.H., an alternate delegate from Texas, speaks in support of a resolution encouraging the AAFP to support open access to publicly funded research.

Students at the National Congress of Student Members adopted two resolutions that focused on lowering medical school debt and, thus, increasing access to medical school for more potential future family physicians. One of these resolutions asked the AAFP to "strongly condemn" the elimination of subsidized Stafford loans for graduate and professional students, as well as advocate that these loans be reinstated. The second asked that the Academy encourage all medical schools "to seek out innovative strategies to actively lower the cost of education for medical students who have committed to primary care specialties."

John Hayes of Chicago, co-author of the latter resolution, said during Saturday's business session that debt and rising tuition costs are impossible to ignore.

"Rising tuition is thinning our (primary care physician) ranks," he said. "Medical schools need to realize they need to contain the cost of tuition to encourage more medical students to go into primary care. I think anything the AAFP can do to … help us lower tuition and eliminate some of this crushing debt is a good thing, because (the debt) is hurting us."

Story Highlights

  • Students at the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students adopted resolutions and substitute resolutions aimed at reducing medical student debt, as well as enhancing available educational opportunities.
  • In addition, the National Congress of Student Members asked that student election rules be amended to allow the use of social media in the promotion of candidate profiles.
  • Students also adopted other measures dealing with, for example, social media guidelines for AAFP members and the use of green and socially responsible practices at conferences, businesses and academic practices.

Although the reference committee said in its report that it agreed with the resolution's intent, committee members still recommended that the measure not be adopted because AAFP policy already calls for reducing student debt. Moreover, said the committee, it is not appropriate for the Academy to call on medical schools to reduce tuition, especially given that schools often must consider external factors when setting tuition rates.

The students disagreed, however, and gave the measure a thumbs-up.

Resolutions adopted by the student congress are referred to the appropriate Academy entity by the AAFP Board of Directors, after which the selected group reviews the resolution and determines if further action is appropriate, including whether policy should be developed relating to the topic.

Enhancing Education

On the education front, students adopted a substitute resolution asking the Academy to advocate to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education to include training on electronic health records in current educational standards.

Students also adopted a substitute measure requesting that the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine develop curriculum guidelines to teach business principles to undergraduate medical students.

"Health systems management is an area that is lacking for medical students," said Lindsay Harbin, of Huntsville, Ala., co-author of the original resolution, in reference committee testimony on Friday. "We are often confronted about insurance issues and other financial issues, but often do not have enough information to give thoughtful answers. We definitely need more education in this area."

Students also adopted measures that ask the AAFP to support open access to publicly funded research and to look into enhancing the current functionality of the national family medicine residency program search tool to include more searchable fields.

Jerry Abraham, M.P.H., of San Antonio, said during Saturday's business session that access to publicly funded research is a necessary part of physicians offering better patient care

"While (up-to-date research) is critical for us to do our job, many family physicians are located in low-resource areas with little to no access to journals," Abraham said. "For U.S. physicians and their patients, this is a real disadvantage."

Internal Affairs

Given the ubiquity of social media use in today's society, the students also adopted a resolution that calls for an update to student election rules to include policy allowing the use of social media to promote candidate profiles after candidates have been nominated on the floor.

The resolution recommends that the Subcommittee on National Conference Planning choose specific social media channels each year that candidates may use to highlight their qualifications. The channels would be announced at least a week before the conference so students could create accounts with a Web service if they choose to do so. The resolution also asks the AAFP to consider possible penalties for students who use social media to promote negative material about a candidate.

In addition, students adopted a late resolution asking the AAFP to explore the creation of a membership category for all American citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in international medical schools, thereby removing a barrier that prevents some of these students from gaining access to Academy member benefits. The resolution also asked that, in the interim, the AAFP waive membership dues as it currently does for students enrolled in U.S. medical schools.

Another late resolution that was adopted asked that the Academy expand the Family Medicine Interest Groups Network to include an international liaison representing American citizens and U.S. permanent residents enrolled in international medical schools.

Benjamin "Tate" Hinkle, of Huntsville, Ala., an alternate student delegate to the 2012 AAFP Congress of Delegates, spoke in support of the first resolution.

"This will help international students get involved in the Academy, which is good for family medicine," Hinkle said. "And let's be honest, none of the rest of us pay dues, so this only seems fair."

Other Issues

Finally, students adopted resolutions and substitute resolutions that call on the Academy to

  • develop policy to support reasonable accommodation for trainees who are breastfeeding;
  • investigate student and resident involvement with the FamMedPAC Board of Directors;
  • create guidelines for use of social media by members;
  • explore the establishment of an online database for primary care research opportunities;
  • adopt the use of green and socially responsible practices at conferences, businesses and academic practices, including emphasizing digital distribution and publication of a green standard for vendors, exhibitors and partners; and
  • encourage physicians to include distracted driving discussions as part of anticipatory guidance for teenage patients.