Medical student earns Bulls game ball for leading national AMA students

Accolades took the form of a basketball when William Pearce was presented with the USF Bulls’ game ball Dec. 15 during a timeout for the Bulls taking on Georgia Southern in the Sun Dome.

Pearce, a third-year medical student in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, was presented with the ball – autographed by Bulls basketball coach Orlando Antigua – because of his national efforts to improve medical education and health care, for representing USF in the national spotlight, and, most recently, for being elected chair of the Medical Student Section of the American Medical Association (AMA), presiding over more than 50,000 fellow students from across the country. He takes the helm June of 2015.

On center court, Pearce was presented with the game ball by Barry Clements, deputy director of USF Athletics, and Joann Strobbe, associate vice president and chief financial officer for USF Health and associate dean for Business Affairs and Technology for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

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From left, Barry Clements, William Pearce and Joann Strobbe.

In earning the game ball, Pearce comfortably shifted the focus from him to the bigger picture.

“Getting the game ball means I have the support of one of the best universities in the country, as well as physicians, mentors, and friends in the Tampa community,” he said. “With that, I doubt there’s much that we can’t accomplish.”

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USF President Judy Genshaft congratulates William Pearce.

Building a national push

Pearce has spent the better part of the past two years taking the national stage to promote and advocate for issues affecting medicine, meeting with elected officials and pushing the concerns of medical students into the national conversation.

William Pearce

In 2012-13, he was vice chair of the Florida Medical Association Medical Student Section, coordinating legislative affairs, serving as USF student delegate to the FMA, and leading the FMA’s medical student recruiting efforts at USF.  The Hillsborough County Medical Association awarded him an annual scholarship for outstanding service in organized medicine.

In 2013, he earned the Government Relations Advocacy Fellowship from the AMA, a designation of medical advocacy that goes to only one student nationally each year. Pearce was the 10th in the country, and the first from USF, to serve in the fellowship.

In that role, he spent a year in Washington, DC, working fulltime for a year as a paid member of the AMA’s federal advocacy team, meeting with politicians, AMA leaders and medical students to advance the association’s legislative agenda and policies on behalf of patients, physicians and medical students.

“The Government Relations position with the AMA was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I was exposed to the inner workings of government and got to learn how the sausage is really made, so to speak. Furthermore, I was able to work and form relationships with U.S. Senators, Representatives, and officials in all branches of government. I remain grateful to the medical students, residents, and physicians of the AMA for trusting to me to serve.”

While in DC, Pearce launched several initiatives with the advocacy team, including the first Save GME Action Week, during which the group launched a campaign to raise awareness about the impending crisis for access to patient care because physician residencies are not growing at the same rate as the demand for doctors or by the number of doctors graduating from medical school.

“America is staring down an unprecedented physician shortage over the next decade, and yet the number of residency positions (the only means to create new doctors) remains capped,” Pearce said. “During the first Save GME Action Week last August, we were able to rally more than 50 medical schools to meet with their national Representatives and Senators during a congressional recess. In this one week, medical students sent more than 7,000 letters to Congress and made countless phone calls to advocate for graduate medical education (GME) and lifting the residency cap.”

Pearce was also instrumental in organizing the AMA Medical Student Advocacy Day in March, when hundreds of medical students flew to DC from across the county to meet with their elected officials.

“Despite the snowstorm, this event was a great success,” he said. “By the time it was all said and done, medical students had sent nearly 30,000 letters to Congress to advocate for graduate medical education.”

Changing the national conversation

Come June, when he begins his one-year term as chair of the AMA Student Section, Pearce will set out to increase medical student influence on the issues of health care.

“As the future of America’s health care, our medical student members possess considerable influence that we have yet to wield effectively,” he said. “Growing our influence is not a goal that can be achieved overnight. It will require years of momentum and relationship building to get this snowball rolling. And I’m hoping to kick that snowball off the top of the mountain.”

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Professional photographer Bill Pearce gets the shot of his son William on center court.

Photos by Bill Pearce, wlpearce.com