A.T. Still University-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA) students are in a heated competition as they battle for the top spot in the VotER Cactus Cup, going head-to-head with fellow top healthcare institutions in Arizona. While the competition remains fierce, the purpose behind it provides just one more way to serve the underserved.
Linda Chang, OMS II, completed a summer program with the National Medical Fellowship Primary Care Leadership Program at AltaMed Health Service Corporation. During the six-week program, Chang conducted research that focused on the relationship between civic engagement and the healthcare provider as a way to address health disparities. It was during this time that Chang became aware of the VotER initiative and wanted to get ATSU-SOMA involved.
A nonprofit, VotER gives healthcare providers tools to help their patients register to vote or request a mail-in ballot. The goal is to ensure healthy and safe voting experiences.
Chang was in a cohort with two other ATSU-SOMA students who shared her passion for civic engagement. Together with Adan Garcia-Mecinas, OMS II, and Yesenia Salazar, OMS II, Chang proposed the initiative to ATSU-SOMA faculty for their approval.
“One thing that my two other classmates and I learned throughout our fellowship, whenever we want to explain to the school why we are passionate about something, we should give them context, give them stories about ourselves as to why it is important to us,” Chang said. “And so, we shared why it was important for us.”
Chang told of her experience as the daughter of two Vietnamese refugees growing up in the low-income urban community of East Los Angeles. When her father was learning English, he asked her who he should vote for president.
“I could barely read a chapter book in English at that point. That was way over my head,” Chang said.
When Chang turned 18 and became eligible to vote, she made it a priority to stay engaged and informed and to share that knowledge with her community.
With the overwhelming support from ATSU-SOMA faculty and staff from the beginning, Chang formed a partnership with ATSU-SOMA’s Student Government Association (SGA) to help spread the word across the 16 community healthcare centers (CHCs) where ATSU-SOMA students are placed.
“This completely student-run, non-partisan voter registration initiative reflects how our entire ATSU-SOMA institution on every level is committed to ensuring our patients, community, family, and friends have a healthy and safe voting experience,” Chang said. “Civic engagement is a social determinant of health we are all dedicated to addressing by living up to ATSU-SOMA’s mission in empowering and serving our most vulnerable communities.”
ATSU-SOMA’s SGA helped with the initial distribution of collateral, which included 500 badges, each with a quick response (QR) code linked to the VotER website. Healthcare providers at the 16 CHCs were provided a badge to wear and given instructions on how to have a conversation with patients about registering to vote. If a patient hasn’t registered to vote, they can simply scan the QR code and complete registration on their smart phone or text “VOTE ATSU” to 34444 and start the process via text message.
“I ask the patient after the consultation, so it doesn’t interrupt in the beginning, but it is more like a closing at the end,” Chang said. “After the physician talks to the patient, then I go to the patient and say, ‘Hi, I want to make sure you have a healthy and safe voting experience, are you registered to vote?’”
The Cactus Cup is a friendly competition amongst West coast medical schools. Each school has a unique QR code and website link to track how many voters are registered as a result of their medical students’ efforts. The competition continues through the end of October and ATSU-SOMA is currently ranked in first place.
“This is another way for us to really elevate and highlight ATSU curriculum and what they offer to students, especially students that are committed to primary care, that are committed to learning about how to serve the underserved community as the healthcare provider,” Chang said.
“We are healthcare providers. Our job is to protect patients and make sure their voices are heard in every single area, not just in healthcare,” Chang said. “Healthcare providers are trusted messengers. This is another way to emphasize to patients that may have had distrust with physicians…that if a physician is asking, ‘Are you registered to vote, because I want to make sure that you get your voice heard,’ then maybe my physician does care about me.”
Register to vote or request a mail in ballot: https://vot-er.org/ATSU/