As medical students, we recognize that bias in medicine is doubly damaging: it burdens our peers and it harms our patients. In the opening narratives we see both of these at play: in Micaela’s self-doubt and frustration, and in the intern’s judgment of their older, Latina patient. Such clinician bias has been increasingly shown to contribute to widespread health inequities.
“He’s had enough, you don’t want to put him through any more.” Dr. Acharya’s soft jowls folded into a cool smile, as though he hadn’t thought of acids unfiltered by failing kidneys. I dug my fingernails into my palms. Glancing at the bed where my grandfather lay, I watched his bare, gray skin grip the scar that split his ribcage in two. Behind his parted eyelids were unfocused blue eyes, glazed with whitish film. He hardly knew we were there — hovering over him — deciding whether he would have a chance to live and suffer, or whether he would suffer and die.
I am a medical student, yes. I am also a survivor of sexual violence. With the recent Columbia University commencement, the surge of articles surrounding the narratives of Emma Sulkowickz and Paul Nungesser prompted me to reflect on this latter identity. When histories of sexual harassment at my school emerged last November, my survivor status edged its way into my path toward doctorhood. I know I will always carry the mark of my trauma with me, and I am learning how I will better empathize with patients because of it.
If you came to me then, / I might have smeared salve / into the keloid stripes / ripped into your back
On the day of my white coat ceremony, I felt like a pretender. I squirmed in the rigid, wooden seat, staring at the gilded columns and towering proscenium of the hall, wondering when I’d be found out. I imagined them calling me to the stage, slipping on the coat, then seeing me in it and saying, “Well, that doesn’t look quite right.”