ANNA-LILJA DAWSON
Prairies and Northern Bureau Chief

SASKATOON (CUP) — Advocacy is becoming more prominent in medical classrooms as working physicians are advocating for their patients at increasing rates.

Dr. Ryan Meili, an associate professor from the department of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said that advocacy is becoming an increasingly important aspect of being a physician as it has recently been recognized in the CanMEDS Physician Competency Framework.

The framework outlines physicians as medical experts foremost but should also have defined roles as communicators, collaborators, managers, scholars, professionals and health advocates.

The framework “to me is a really positive thing. That’s a fairly recent development but it recognizes that [advocacy’s] not an extra; it’s part of what a physician is supposed to be,” Meili said.

“A role that I think is very important and probably not one that we really have a handle on is teaching well or helping physicians to understand well how to integrate into their practice,” Meili said. He later said the most common complaint he hears regarding advocacy is that doctors recognize when there are public health issues but are unsure of how to address them.

The U of S currently has a number of courses, such as the emergency medicine residency program, that have students complete an advocacy research project. However, increasing advocacy in medical students’ education at the U of S is an area that Meili said requires attention — specifically in other residency programs when there is a heavy focus on clinical skills.

However, Dr. Lee Green, professor and chair of the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta, wrote in an email to the Canadian University Press that whether or not physicians should be advocates is a debatable issue.

“Some believe strongly we should be, others quite the opposite. I don’t think there’s a right answer there. Med students do get some formal preparation for advocacy, largely in the form of quality and safety teaching, but it’s something far less than the entire class takes advantage of,” Green wrote.

Medical students are being exposed to advocacy earlier than before through organized events such as the Canadian Federation of Medical Students’ annual Lobby Day.

The CFMS’ Lobby Day gives medical students across Canada an opportunity to try their hand at advocating for health issues, helping to prepare them to be practicing physicians.

Melanie Bechard, the chair of the government affairs and advocacy committee for the CFMS, said the annual event has two purposes — to communicate health-care issues to policy makers and to educate medical students about advocacy.

“There is an increasingly greater move towards training medical students as advocates but we think that Lobby Day helps enhance their education,” Bechard said. She added that students who participate get a full day of training in preparation for the event that includes speakers who are experienced in healthcare advocacy.

“We have speakers from across the country who have done wonderful advocacy in health care come and speak to our students to inspire them and also teach them how to advocate effectively.”

Lobby Day 2014 took place on Feb. 3 where medical students met with 65 senators and members of Parliament to lobby for continued support for affordable housing programs and relief of federal medical student debt during residency.

Samuel Fineblit, a medical student from the University of Manitoba, said although his program offers population and public health courses, students should receive more education pertaining to their roles as advocates while being physicians.

The CFMS Lobby Day gives medical students a chance to be exposed to advocacy, Fineblit said.

Fineblit also sits on the government affairs and advocacy committee for the CFMS.

Lindsay Bowthorpe, a second year medical student at U of A, agrees that it is difficult to teach students everything they need to know before becoming doctors.

However, Bowthorpe said she has learned about physicians roles as advocates by attending the federal lobby day twice and having organized the provincial lobby day this year.

“Speaking from the Alberta perspective, there are a lot of opportunities to get involved and I think it’s just a fantastic way to realize that you can make a difference in another form that can influence the health of Canadians,” Bowthorpe said.