Florida Medical Association

FMA Magazine - Q2 2013

Magazine of the Florida Medical Association

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It boils down to protecting the public health. Dirty needles and syringes spread blood-borne infections, such as HIV and hepatitis, and the problem is especially urgent in Miami-Dade County. Tookes noted that Miami has more than 10,000 injection-drug users, and more than 20 percent are likely to be infected with HIV. Miami also has the highest rate of HIV in the country and continues to have the largest number of new infections per population. So while the ultimate goal is to implement needle-exchange programs statewide, Miami-Dade is an optimal testing ground. In 2011, Tookes published a study revealing that there were eight times more publicly discarded needles on Miami's streets than on those of San Francisco, a city that has a needle-exchange program. Tookes never got used to the sight of so many syringes and needles on the ground, and it was especially unsettling to see them in areas near schools and playgrounds. "Physicians and public health practitioners in Miami should be doing everything (they) can to try to control that," he said. "Miami should definitely be first in line and needs it the most." The FMA made it possible Though they had enthusiasm and facts on their side, the student-advocates were newcomers to the legislative process, not seasoned Capitol insiders. Tookes said that the FMA's support and accessibility were invaluable in helping them navigate the political world, and the organization's stamp of credibility made lawmakers take notice. They made the trip to Tallahassee several times to testify on the bill's behalf and lobby legislators. "Working with (FMA Director of Policy Management and Legislative Operations) Michelle Jacquis was incredible. She was was just so accessible and such an amazing advocate to have working with us," said Tookes, who also expressed gratitude for the counsel of FMA Vice President and FMA PAC President Ralph Nobo, M.D., Student Advisor on the MSS Governing Council. "Without the FMA, there's no way we would have gone as far as we did." University of Miami College of Medicine students Marek Hirsch, Hansel Tookes and Dyani Loo are shown at the state Capitol with Florida Sen. Eleanor Sobel (center) during the 2013 legislative session. Medical students like Tookes, Diaz, Loo and Hirsch are the reason the FMA MSS exists. These future physicians are important partners in making Florida a more pro-medicine state, and the MSS gives them real-world opportunities to engage in organized medicine and even influence public policy. "This is a battle that we will win," Tookes said. "I think all medical students should know that it's not just (about) graduating. If you see things you can change to make this a better place for all citizens and a better state in which physicians can practice medicine, (you should) definitely do all you can to make those changes. This was tough one, and we got really far."

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