Marin Darsie, MD, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Neurosurgery, was interviewed by the American Medical Association (AMA) regarding her role as VotER Site Champion for the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Download a PDF of the full interview or read on the AMA website (membership required to access the article).
What is VotER? It is a national program that empowers patients to vote by providing voter registration tools while they wait in the Emergency Department. It aims to help the 50 million people in the U.S. who are not registered to vote become registered voters and cast a ballot. VotER focuses on patients in the ER and other places like community health centers, free care clinics, and clinics where marginalized patients receive care, as many of the 50 million unregistered voters are those in underserved populations.
VotER offers non-partisan voter registration in a way that does not interrupt the healthcare delivery process. Some argue that 2020 has shocked the nation both in and out of the healthcare setting, shedding light on major public health and civic health disparities. Physicians like Darsie are focusing on doing more to address the underlying causes of these disparities.
"I had been making donations to food banks and GoFundMe accounts, but what if I actually had the ability to change the system so the system starts taking care of people? We could stop relying on the goodness and kindness of volunteers and instead change the system. I’ve been focused on ways in which I could have an impact, so VotER was a natural extension of that. Voting is not a panacea, but it is a fundamental way to address the structural problems I have seen in healthcare."
Darsie argues the cross-section of civic engagement and healthcare is a powerful tool for enfranchising communities and educating people about how healthcare policies affect their own well-being. "We need to use our platform [as physicians] to advocate for changes. We know the healthcare system and the ways to improve it that the average person may not. It is our obligation to become advocates and let them know that they have a voice," she says.
Alister Martin, MD, MPP, founder of the VotER program and an Emergency Medicine Specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School in the Faculty Center for Social Justice and Health Equity, recalls a Toni Morrison quote as a driving force behind his vision for VotER. "When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."
To learn more about VotER and get involved at your home institution, visit Vot-ER.org and help strengthen our healthcare system —one vote at a time.