In March 2020, following the announcement of the United States’ first death related to COVID-19, many physicians began using their voices to discuss the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Many physicians, myself included, petitioned elected leaders at the community, state, and federal levels to address the PPE shortage.
Historically, physicians have advocated for improved public health. From seat belt laws in the 1980s and 1990s to the Affordable Care Act in the 2000s, physicians have testified at the community, state, and federal levels to advocate for the health and safety of our patients and the public. Yet while we have been making our voices heard, we are often silent at the ballot box.
In the 1996 and 2000 elections, physicians voted 9% less often than the general public, and compared with lawyers – professionals with similar educational attainment and finances – physicians voted 22% less often.1 It is unclear why physicians are less likely to vote. In a 2016 article, David Grande, MD, and Katrina Armstrong, MD, postulated that physicians may not vote because our work hours create barriers to visiting polls.2
Despite our lack of engagement at the ballot box, voting is important to improving our patients’ social determinants of health. In a recently published systematic review, the authors found several studies supporting the association between voting and social determinants of health. Their review found that, when large numbers of people from communities participated in voting, it translated into greater influence over determining who held political power in that community. Those with power introduced and supported policies responding to their constituents’ needs, ultimately influencing their constituents’ social determinants of health.3 By voting, we as physicians are helping to address the social determinants of health in our communities.
Many medical students have been doing their part to improve the social determinants of health in their communities by pledging to vote. In 2018, the American Medical Student Association launched their “Med Out the Vote” initiative prior to the election. The organization called on all health care providers and providers in training to pledge to vote in the election.4 They are continuing these efforts for the 2020 elections.
We should join our nation’s medical students by also pledging to vote. To begin, we can all Make A Plan To Vote. Each plan should include the following:
- Register to vote: In many states eligible voters can register online.
- Request an absentee ballot: Many states require registered voters to request absentee ballots online or by mail.
- Vote: Submit an absentee ballot prior to election or vote in-person on election day. Some counties allow voting early in person.
In practice, our plans will differ slightly because each state has its own election laws.
This election season let us ensure all physician voices are heard. Make A Plan To Vote for your patients and communities.
Dr. Kumar is the pediatric editor of The Hospitalist. She is clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University and a pediatric hospitalist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
1. Grande D et al. Do Doctors Vote?.
2. Grande D, Armstrong K. Will Physicians Vote?.
3. Brown CL et al. Voting, health and interventions in healthcare settings: A scoping review. Public Health Rev. 2020 Jul..
4. American Medical Student Association. AMSA Launches Med Out the Vote Campaign, Call to Action. 2018 Jul 29. Accessed 2020 Sep 14. https://www.amsa.org/about/amsa-press-room/amsa-launches-med-out-the-vote-campaign-call-to-action/