UT Health San Antonio medical students promote voter registration as part of ‘Healthy Democracy’

Initiative pushes to increase voter participation in healthcare industry; as well as make voter registration a routine part of patient care

San Antonio – In the week leading up to the voter registration deadline in Texas, a group of medical students registered health care workers to vote at University Hospital by setting up tables for employees, students and others at the hospital to fill out the proper paperwork.

The organization, called “Healthy Democracy,” worked to make it easier for healthcare workers to participate in the election. Several students became deputy voter registrars, which allowed them to register others to vote and turn in the proper paperwork to the Bexar County Elections Office on their behalf.

“In a span of, really just a couple of days, we had eight volunteers and [Deputy Voter Registrars] ready to go at all those different stations; it was amazing to see,” said second-year medical student and “Healthy Democracy” organizer Margot Favret.

The organization believes the initiative is important because they say health care workers often do not register because of their tough, time-consuming schedules.

“Health care workers, doctors, nurses, we are notorious for not being registered to vote at the same rate as normal people,” said third-year medical student and “Healthy Democracy” organizer Swetha Maddipudi.

The group also partnered with physicians at University Hospital to help register patients to vote, as well. Maddipudi said asking patients if they are registered to vote is an extension of other social health questions health care providers already ask.

“When you’re asking about ‘where do you work, do you have health insurance, do you smoke, do you use alcohol,’ things like that, you just ask ‘do you have a way to vote, are you planning to vote, do you have a safe way to get to the polls,’” Maddipudi said.

Members of the organization say the process is non-partisan and say registering voters should be considered a part of patient care.

“We have to begin to integrate that aspect as a part of patient care, as well, and that would help reduce the stigma with being physicians and talking about politics in any way,” said Gretel Sanchez, a fourth-year medical student and “Healthy Democracy” organizer.

Associate Dean of the Long School of Medicine, Dr. Joshua Janson, says the “Healthy Democracy” initiative is important in 2020 because we are still in the middle of a global pandemic.

“Health care providers are trained in proper usage of PPE, they are trained in safe methodologies. So by offering to be a group interacting with society, we can relieve some of the more at-risk populations that might otherwise participate in voter registration,” Dr. Hanson said.

The current climate is also pushing the organizers of “Healthy Democracy” to set their sites beyond voter registration. The group is also working on providing more information to the voters they helped register, using their knowledge of health care to inform people on safe voting practices, such as early voting dates and locations.

“While the polling locations will be will be practicing social distancing, you definitely want to avoid people as much as possible,” said Ida Vaziri, a second-year medical student and “Healthy Democracy” organizer.

“Healthy Democracy” members are also hoping the progress they made this election cycle will continue after election day. Maddipudi says they are currently working on registering students as poll workers, securing a poll location at University Hospital or the medical school and continuing to educate voters on safe election practices.

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