James Besante, a second-year student at the UNM School of Medicine, was recently given the Nicholas Skala Student Activist Award by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) for his health care reform advocacy efforts in New Mexico.

Besante serves as co-president of the American Medical Students Association (AMSA) at UNM in Albuquerque. For the past three years, he has worked on a state constitutional amendment that would recognize health care as fundamental human right.

The award, which came from the 18,000-member PNHP, was presented to Besante by Kevin Grumbach, professor and chair, Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, at the group's 25th Anniversary Meeting in San Francisco recently.

The award is named for a young health care activist named Nicholas Skala, who passed away suddenly in 2009. A law student and health policy analyst for PNHP, "Nick was an inspiration to those whose lives he touched working for a single-payer, universal health care system," the group's description of the award says.

In the course of his advocacy of the constitutional amendment, Besante has served as an expert witness at several hearings at the State Capitol, helping to advance the bill through legislative committees. The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and state Rep. Gail Chasey.

The amendment for health care as a human right has been endorsed by the New Mexico Public Health Association, Health Action NM, League of Women Voters New Mexico, Native Health Initiative, Network of Health Professionals for a National Health Program (NHP2), The New Mexico Health Equity Working Group, NM Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Albuquerque Ministerial Alliance, Gray Panthers, NM Alliance for Retired Americans, Youth Women United and La Raza Unida Party Organizing Committee.