USF medical student chosen for AMA’s prestigious Government Relations Advocacy Fellowship

University of South Florida medical student William Pearce has been selected to fill the American Medical Association’s 2013-14 Government Relations Advocacy Fellowship (GRAF). 

Only one student is chosen from applicants nationwide each year for this prestigious medical advocacy position – and Pearce is the first from USF’s medical school.  He will be the tenth of a select group of medical students who have served as GRAF fellows since the program began.

Starting this July, Pearce, a second-year medical student at USF, will work full-time for one year in Washington, DC, as a paid member of the AMA’s federal advocacy team.  He will meet with politicians, AMA leaders and medical students to advance the association’s legislative agenda and policies on behalf of patients, physicians and medical students.

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USF second-year medical student William Pearce attended the American Medical Association’s Medical Student Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill last month. Next year, as USF’s first AMA Government Relations Advocacy Fellow he will be organizing the annual event.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to use this fellowship to inspire medical students and give them a stronger voice,” Pearce said, “because, what happens in Washington, DC, and Tallahassee, FL, directly impacts healthcare policies shaping the future of medicine and the best interests of our patients.”

Pearce has been gaining experience in the practical aspects of advocating for medicine since attending his first AMA Medical Student Section Interim Meeting as a new medical student in 2011.  He was the primary author of an AMA resolution aimed at tying further advanced directives to driver’s licenses.

As 2012-13 vice chair of the Florida Medical Association Medical Student Section, he coordinated legislative affairs, served as USF student delegate to the FMA, and led the FMA’s medical student recruiting efforts at USF.  The Hillsborough Medical Association recently awarded him an annual scholarship for outstanding service in organized medicine.

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William Pearce, Class of 2015

One issue Pearce feels strongly about is the growing shortage of residency spots where medical students who have completed MD degrees conduct their specialty training, or graduate medical education. This fall, he spoke at a GME Summit, convened at USF Health CAMLS by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, to address the particularly severe shortage of residency positions in Florida.  Last month, he was among a group of USF students who traveled to Capitol Hill to push for greater funding of graduate medical education.

Because most residents practice where they train, Pearce said, “Florida is investing in the education of medical students, and then exporting much of that intellectual capital out of state to work as physicians.”

A native of Jacksonville, Pearce holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of North Florida, where he won a full athletic scholarship and served as UNF track and cross-country team captain for three years.  He helped build UNF’s track program into a highly competitive team that won conference championship titles, and was recognized by the NCAA as a Student Athlete of the Year in 2011.

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Pearce, a four-time NCAA conference champion in track/cross country (1500 meter and 3000 meter) as an undergraduate, is shown here on the winner’s platform at the Atlantic Sun Indoor Track Championship. “I had just gotten into medical school at USF two days before that win, and was on a super high,” he said.

As he looks ahead to a career in surgery and leadership role in medicine, Pearce recalls the words of his former head track coach:  “For me it was a defining moment… He said ‘to be a great leader, you’ll have to make those who follow believe, not just in what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it.’”

As a GRAF fellow, Pearce said, he wants to help the AMA do just that.  “We must convince our team of medical students that the common cause is greater than any individual agenda.”