In a constantly evolving health care landscape shaped by many voices-including those of third party payers and government-physicians must learn to play a more proactive role to become better advocates for their patients and to uphold the basic tenets of their noble profession. As legislation and public health become increasingly intertwined with the practice of medicine, educators must provide future physicians with the tools to meet these new challenges. Accordingly, in 1996 Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine embarked on its Health Policy and Legislative Awareness Initiative, a medical school elective designed to provide theoretical knowledge as well as practical experience in legislative and policy issues for future physicians early in their careers. The Initiative has three key elements: a series of lectures taught by national and local experts covering a basic health policy curriculum, a mini-internship conducted at the office of a Pennsylvania State legislator, and a practical assignment leading to authorship of a resolution to a national medical organization or assisting in drafting a bill intended for introduction to the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Following several years of successful implementation and a moderate growth in enrollment, recent changes in the local and national scene have peaked the interest of most students to learn about the system in which they will practice medicine. Therefore, in addition to describing the Initiative in its current form, the authors discuss future plans for expanded elective opportunities and consider the issue of integrating health policy education into core medical school curricula.
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