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A Seat at the Table

Ashtin Jeney, a third-year medical student at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has one phrase that sums up her devotion to advocacy: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

“It’s one thing to be vocal, it’s one thing to have an opinion, and it’s one thing to care about issues or sign a petition,” Jeney says, “but putting yourself at the table, with the people who are having the conversation to enact change, I think, is really where we have to [be].”

Jeney, the sole student representative on the board of the American Medical Association Political Action Committee (AMPAC), has long felt a passion for promoting change, particularly with health and public policy. AMPAC, she says, has given her that opportunity. The bipartisan membership organization, whose mission is to find and support Congressional candidates who are pro-patient and pro-provider, has a campaign school and a candidate workshop, and the board’s makeup  — 10 physicians in various stages in their careers and one resident — has allowed Jeney to find mentorship and guidance.

“I think not just AMPAC, but the American Medical Association (AMA) in general has connected me to students [from] across the country and physicians outside of GW [who] have connected me to important issues going on across the country,” she says.

In her role, Jeney is in charge of reaching out to students nationwide to inform them of AMPAC’s mission and to expand membership; her method includes emphasizing the importance of getting involved and shedding light on AMA’s efforts in advocacy. “One of my big points about AMPAC that I like to share with students is that AMA is an advocacy organization, and we do a lot of work to put forth the physicians’ voice in policy,” she explains. “The AMA [gives specialty advice and advocates] well, but it’s very hard to bridge that and to enact those policies without members in Congress to talk to … and to make those laws.”

As a political action committee, AMPAC, she adds, donates support directly to candidates who care about a wide range of pressing health-related issues. Among its priorities are the Affordable Care Act, which is facing repeal, as well as medical student issues, such as student debt, student work hours, medical education, and resident working conditions.

Although Jeney has been involved in advocacy in the past — she’s worked on the Hill for the Senate Finance Committee, advocated with the National Indian Health Board, interned at the Association of American Medical Colleges, and held a number of other leadership positions in the AMA — sitting at AMPAC’s table has only strengthened her resolve to stay involved.

“[At GW], there are so many opportunities to get involved in policy, not just through our curriculum and the great things that we’ve gotten to do with the new health policy and public health theme … but also to get involved in different organizations here in D.C.,” she says. “While having everything right here is such a unique opportunity, I think it doesn’t really matter what I do or where I go, I think I’m going to be involved anyway.”