As medical students learning to care for the sick in the backdrop of a global pandemic, we have been constantly reminded of the extent to which poverty, racism, and political ambivalence constrain the lives of patients. There is a high demand from medical students for curricular content that speaks to the disparities witnessed on their clinical rotations.1 The Health Policy and Advocacy Elective at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine in Long Island, New York was created to meet these demands. Students participate in small group discussions, journal clubs, and lectures on healthcare policy and community advocacy during the four-week elective. They speak with New York state assemblymen, learn how to write op-eds, and volunteer at local community organizations committed to addressing advocacy initiatives like human trafficking and addiction prevention. The skills developed provide students with a toolkit to bridge their medical knowledge with communities outside the hospital as a means of viewing themselves as part of a larger community beyond medicine.
The elective is unique in that it is organized and facilitated by current medical students, a practice that allows for longitudinal leadership development at a time when physician advocates are needed more than ever. The leadership of the elective is composed of a small group of medical students who work directly with faculty for four years to implement the yearly elective. This model goes beyond peer-to-peer teaching to provide students with the decision-making power to set learning objectives, write curricular content, and coordinate the day-to-day administration of the elective.2 This student-led model of curriculum development prepares students for their role as future physician leaders and, furthermore, has helped the curriculum accurately reflect the desires of students. For example, sessions focusing on mass incarceration, community engagement, and comprehensive reproductive health insurance coverage were additions to the 2022 curriculum based upon gaps identified by students. Feedback about the curriculum has been positive. Pre-post-surveys revealed that enrolled students noted increased confidence in their understanding of the structure of healthcare, public policy, and community advocacy (mean confidence in skills of 2.5 pre-elective and 6.8 post-elective of a maximum 10, p<0.01). The Health Policy and Advocacy Elective provides evidence that a student-led model of curriculum development is feasible and can promote leadership development in undergraduate medical education.