During our many years of medical training, we study complex physiological processes running the gamut from acute sepsis to the equally devastating progression of chronic diseases. We spend countless hours in lectures and on the wards, attempting to gain exposure to proper medical management of bread-and-butter medical problems as well as more obscure diseases which may only affect a handful of patients annually. However, most medical schools neglect to teach one crucial area of expertise — training in advocacy skills to address social determinants of health.
Today is International Human Rights Day and the one-year anniversary of last year’s national White Coat Die-In to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The coordinated die-in protests drew national attention highlighting racism as a public health issue. Across the nation today, silent protests at medical schools in New York, Philadelphia, Houston and San Francisco call on medical schools and academic medical centers to move beyond mission statements and slogans in their efforts to promote racial justice.
As medical students across the country enter their fourth year, many will travel thousands of miles to acquire global health experiences from the far reaches of the globe. While much can be learned by exposure to the stark differences among health systems in other countries, there is no doubt that such health disparities also affect the lives of vulnerable populations in our own communities. As a fourth-year medical student, I spent four weeks conducting a community health needs assessment of Burmese refugees in my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, where I began to learn the meaning of global health at home.
President Obama’s executive actions on immigration over the past few years have been met with reactions of both jubilation and opposition. At the border in the Rio Grande Valley, the new law’s effects are acutely felt within a community that prides itself on the blending of American and Mexican culture. The new rules will allow countless mixed status families to remain intact without fear of deportation.