By Daniel Branch, Amar Singh and Kelli Gross
Tuesday, March 1 may have been just another day for most people, but for the students at the University of Texas Medical Branch, it was an important day for the future of our education. As we gathered at 5:30 a.m. to board the buses that would take us to Austin, there were feelings of excitement and nervousness about what the day would hold in the State Capitol.
Nearly 140 students were on a mission to urge the Legislature to maintain our $150 million in post-Hurricane Ike rebuilding funds and to significantly modify the proposed 25 percent cut to the school’s base appropriations. Such cuts would force UTMB Health to eliminate level 1 trauma care services and cut residency slots, further increasing the deficit of physicians in Texas.
This was an especially important trip for students to make because the Legislature has many new members unfamiliar with UTMB Health and how the proposed budget cuts would affect the school. By making the journey to the Capitol, we were not only able to relay details about the potential impact of these cuts on education but also to create an indelible memory in the minds of the legislators of the real human faces that make up UTMB Health.
“It was critical for me to be a part of this because the policy makers need to be aware of how these budget cuts will precipitate deficits in my education,” said medical student Paul Sundberg.
Although this was a new experience for most students, we found a friendly environment that set us at ease and allowed us to fully convey our message.
“I felt a strong positive feedback from my meetings with legislators,” said medical student Nabeel Mecci after meeting with his representatives.
Students found legislators receptive to their cause. Most of the legislators voiced similar concerns about the issues, expressing a desire to see them resolved.
After a long but rewarding day, students returned to Galveston energized and proud to be part of this endeavor. The experience has made a positive, lasting change in some students’ minds about becoming involved in policy making. Many students initiated what they hope will be long-lasting relationships with their legislators.
Medical student Allison Bravenec stated this concisely when she said: “Meeting and creating relationships with a few of the legislators in Austin made me feel like I accomplished more than garnering support for UTMB. It is a venue in which I feel comfortable expressing my thoughts in the future.”
We hoped to spread our message to anyone who would listen. We let our legislators know the effect that the planned, disproportionate budget cuts would have on our education. Many students asked the question, “Why should UTMB Health face budget cuts of a higher magnitude than other comparative institutions?”
This is a salient question considering UTMB Health has the highest board scores among any public medical school in Texas, has six departments in the top 10 for National Institutes for Health funding, cares for 80 percent of Texas’s prison population (at a financial loss) and trains more under-represented minorities than nearly any other medical school in the nation.
This trip would not have been as successful as it was without the hard work and dedication of medical students Roxanne Radi, Lauren Woolbert, Toug Tonarttanavin and Henry Shiau. The organization of this trip was truly a collaborative effort, and we would like to thank them for their instrumental roles in planning and managing our trip to the State Capitol.