AAMC Action Ambassador Spotlight: Aaron Richardson

December 20, 2023

Aaron Richardson talks about the AAMC Action Ambassador Program and his advocacy journey

2023-2024 AAMC Action Ambassador Aaron Richardson is a part of the Class of 2026 at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. He received his Master’s at the University of Pittsburgh before starting medical school. Aaron is passionate about rural health care and palliative care, and outside of being an AAMC Action Ambassador, Aaron demonstrates leadership in the field through his work with the WVU Hospice Medicine Program working with the program’s volunteers to help coordinate inpatient volunteer services, a program that didn’t exist prior to his time there.

Aaron sat down with the AAMC team to discuss the AAMC Action Ambassador program and his thoughts on what it means to be an advocate.

Can you talk a little bit about your experience in the AAMC Action Ambassador Program and the main takeaways from your first year?

The AAMC Action Ambassador program provides a great opportunity to learn more about what’s going on legislatively at the national level and the issues that the AAMC is passionate about to improve the health of patients and communities.

Throughout the year, I was able to meet with a lot of different professionals at the AAMC, and several AAMC staff joined us for informative webinars. You get access to conversations and materials that you wouldn’t have as just a normal medical student in my position, so the opportunities to network within the AAMC are key. I also enjoyed the diversity of the members and Ambassadors themselves and the wealth of experiences everyone brings. I remember from our last call, there are residents, fellows, fourth-years, third-years, and first- years, so there are people through the entire training process that you can glean information from and network with. That is super valuable in any career, but especially within medicine and with the kind of work that we want to do as ambassadors in driving that positive legislative change in Washington.

The Ambassador Program also showed me what drives meaningful change and what it takes to involve medical students contacting their legislators. With trial and error in the advocacy process throughout the year, I was able to refine that down what worked best for our cohort of Ambassadors to drive that change.

How do you personally approach discussing advocacy with members of your community, your colleagues, or other students?

The first step as an advocate is gauging your audience to understand their general knowledge about the issues. That way I try to focus on details that they’re interested in and, help them build on their existing knowledge. From there, I try to inspire them through my story and share why it matters to me. I try to find those connections with others so we can relate to each other. Why is this an important issue? How does this affect them? So, it’s about tailoring to their knowledge base and then trying to describe how our advocacy work would affect them in the long run and why it matters.

Why is advocacy work important to you?

Advocacy is how things get done. It’s one thing to pursue change within a smaller environment, but a lot of the topics that I’m interested in, such as rural medicine and palliative care, involve a lot of support from the wider community. Advocacy is how I can drive change and create awareness about things that people might not be aware of outside of my academic medicine community, especially in West Virginia.

Can you talk some more about your connection to rural health care and palliative care and why it’s an issue that you’re passionate about? How did you get involved in advocating for those issues?

The two things I’m most passionate about are rural health care delivery and palliative care, especially around the end of life. Rural care is one of the main reasons that I decided to come to West Virginia and one of the main ways to address the massive gap in health care delivery.

I love seeing the impact that palliative care can have on someone’s experience. Personally, having dealt with palliative care while my mom was in the ICU, knowing the influence that I can have on a patient’s experience and a family’s experience, especially through the end-of-life process, is something that has served as a major driver for my desire to pursue medicine.

Through research programs at the University of Pittsburgh, I was able to gain insight into the massive gaps in the delivery of health care, the available workforce, and the resources that are available. That work sent me down a path of hearing people’s experiences in rural areas, and it has driven me to pursue rural medicine, to learn more about ways that we can address the gaps in care, and utilize some of the available resources, such as telemedicine. My passion for these issues fueled my drive to apply to medical school.

Why should other current medical students or residents who are AAMC advocates consider joining the Ambassador Program?

The opportunity to network with different individuals with diverse experiences throughout their careers—regardless of where they are in their journey—is invaluable. This program offers me the chance to be a knowledge resource on my campus and connect other students to policy issues and specific legislation impacting the academic medicine community.