Opinion Piece: Voter Turnout Amongst Physicians and Resident Physicians: A Call for Action
AMWA Advocacy Committee: Amna Anees MD FACP, Mary Beth Gadarowski MD
Now more than ever, we need to get our physician workforce to vote. This is considering multiple recent changes in legislation and policies that not only affect our ability to provide services as a physician but also as patients. The Covid pandemic brought a new light to the clash between politics and public health. Recently, with the overturning of Roe vs Wade, our role as advocates for public health policy has been crucial. Historically, physician and other healthcare professional voter turnout has been low in elections, with one study reporting 12% lower turnout than expected (1). Barriers identified by physicians were “conflicting work or school or being too busy”. Other common reasons identified by physicians are failure to meet registration deadline and lack of interest in politics.
Physicians in training form a large part of our community. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) annual report for 2021 confirmed there were over 144,000 residents in the United States (2). This represents a significant portion of the American public who interact with patients daily and have the ability to enact social change based on the needs of our patients. As a group, however, resident physician voter participation is even lower than numbers reported for healthcare professionals overall. The biggest barrier is lack of time (3, 4). Other reasons identified are lack of absentee ballot as well as not being registered in state of residence. Overall, medical professionals voted approximately 20% less than the general population (5). Turnout was higher in states that offered no-excuse mail-in voting than those that did not, which highlights an additional barrier for the states that do not offer mail-in votes. This is a critical stop point, as our future physician workforce does not have time or resources to vote and warrants a call for action from training governing bodies as well as hospitals to identify and address these barriers.
We reached out to resident trainees who are members of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) to get their thoughts on the barriers to voting and below are some of the responses:
“As a resident, the culture among the program was very voter friendly, but unfortunately there was not protected time set aside to vote nor any highlights as to deadlines.”
We do not have any sort of protected time to go vote, mention of voting, nothing voting related.”
“We don’t have any formal policies, for voter turnout or registration, but can leave in time to vote.”
“I have no idea what our voter policy is for trainees. This has not been discussed at all during orientation, nor do I know where to find it. If this is an indication of the need for this to be addressed for trainees, then hopefully this is telling.”
“We do not have any actions dedicated to voting, including time off, or highlighting voter registration or timing of voting.”
“Our program does not have protected time for voting; however, that being said, we do regard it with high importance and our residents are always able to get out early to make sure they can get to the voting booths on time. Unfortunately, that is the extent of what we do.”
5 Steps for healthcare institutions to encourage physicians and physicians in training to vote:
Perhaps the biggest element is to convey the importance and procedure of voting. When physicians and physicians in training move from one state to another, which is a very common occurrence, there should be information about voting registration for that state in the orientation packets. This should be reinforced throughout the year. Physicians should also be updated about different policies and their impact on health care and patients so that an educated decision about voting can be made.
Reminders to get registered and to vote should be disseminated in multiple formats. This can be done via QR codes in presentations, placing information and QR codes in lunch or break rooms, call rooms.
3. Flexible scheduling:
While it is impossible to give everyone an off day for voting, hospitals should allow flexible scheduling to allow staff, physicians, and physicians in training to be able to make it to the polling sites. Hospital leadership should coordinate designated voting times by residency program as part of hospital wide voting policy, such that voting is built into resident duty day.
4. Providing transport:
Having reliable modes of transportation to take hospital employees to polling stations can also encourage and increase voter turnout.
5. Utilize Graduate Medical Education (GME):
Hospitals should utilize GME Program Coordinators and Program Leadership to help notify residents about general election and voting information, along with state-specific deadlines.
In today’s current legislation, a multitude of decisions are being made that affect physician’s ability to perform their jobs and help their patients. This includes legislation related to abortion rights, access to medical care, prescription drug use and transgender care. With this, it is a civic duty of physicians to vote, and this should be supported and encouraged by not only the training programs and hospitals but should also have support from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the American Medical Association (AMA) and other governing bodies to advocate for resources for physicians in training to vote.
Further information highlighting the importance of voting and additional voting resources can be found at the following link: https://www.healio.com/news/primary-care/20220902/every-voice-matters-and-every-vote-counts-we-must-vote-for-our-health-this-november
- Solnick RE, Choi H, Kocher KE. Voting Behavior of Physicians and Healthcare Professionals. J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Apr;36(4):1169-1171. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06461-2. Epub 2021 Jan 22. PMID: 33483814; PMCID: PMC7822395.
- Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. ACGME Data Resource Book: Academic Year 2020-2021. Chicago, IL: ACGME; 2021. acgme.org/globalassets/pfassets/publicationsbooks/2020-2021_acgme_databook_document.pdf
- Lalani HS, Hong AS, Siddiqui R. Barriers to Voting in 2020 Among Resident Physicians. J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Jan;36(1):254-255. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06308-w. Epub 2020 Oct 21. PMID: 33089406; PMCID: PMC7859132.
- Smola C, Shah N, Monroe K. Examining Pediatric Residency Voting Practices. South Med J. 2021 Jan;114(1):13-16. doi: 10.14423/SMJ.0000000000001191. PMID: 33398354.
- Lalani HS, Hong AS. Get Out the Vote: A Framework to Mobilize Medical Professionals to Vote. Ann Intern Med. 2022 Sep 13. doi: 10.7326/M22-2168. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36095309.