Interdisciplinary health organization plans advocacy opportunities

Sara Schleede

The Health Advocacy Student Coalition is kicking off their first full semester as the initial interdisciplinary student organization focused on promoting health care advocacy among the student body.

“A lot of student organizations have in their mission to learn more about health policy, but … they don’t have the means to be able to create large opportunities for students to come together and have a bigger voice,” HASC president Kelsey Mumford said. “(HASC) provides a way for (several organizations) to come together and have a bigger impact because they’re all discussing it with their own points of view.”

The coalition is partnered with 25 health-related student organizations that send representatives to the monthly meetings, where attendees discuss legislation and plan advocacy events. Members of the research team within the coalition present bills to club representatives who then vote on whether or not to adopt the legislation as part of HASC’s agenda for the semester.

Once a piece of legislation is adopted, HASC will provide the student body with opportunities to attend local demonstrations, take part in call-ins or advocate at the Texas Capitol. Legislation topics include health disparities, reproductive health and global health.

“All these bills we thought were relevant to students, and we want to give (students) a way to get involved — whether (the bills) pass or not,” said Mumford, a nursing and biology junior.

Legislative Research Intern Jeffery Chen said he joined HASC to learn more about health care from a logistical standpoint. Chen said the political environment of health care is important to understand when pursuing a medical career.

“In a lot of the courses we have now, we mainly focus on straight science knowledge,” neuroscience junior Chen said. “We don’t have that much knowledge about health care — like law and the logistical side of those kinds of things.”

HASC is also scheduled to attend the Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearings in March, where they will discuss how to implement congressional legislation introduced in the 2017 legislative session. The legislation covers long-term care facility regulation and health care data collection.

Nursing junior Elena Cole said she focuses more on individual patient needs as a legislative committee member of the Nursing Student Association, but the broad policy issues on the HASC agenda are essential to discuss as well.

“Population needs are very important,” Cole said. “The more public health efforts we have, the more people are educated on health policy (and) the better individual health can be.”

Mumford said the American health care system is complicated and will remain so unless students become informed and learn how to help it function better.

“(A change is) going to take the next generation being prepared to advocate for what they think is right, get involved now so whenever they graduate and they’re professionals and have those initials after their name, they can make a real impact,” Mumford said.

Chen said HASC’s ultimate goal is to make health care advocacy more accessible to students.

“We can only do so much as a student organization in terms of impacting law and health care,” Chen said. “One thing we really can make a direct impact on is the number of students who are aware of what goes on in the politics of health care.”