Now, I am a fourth-year medical student standing at the foot of a tall ladder. The hierarchy of medicine requires that I follow some unwritten rules in order to climb. Throughout my training, I have gotten the sense that one of those rules is: avoid trouble, good or bad. Of course, now, doctors are beginning to find their voices through movements like White Coats for Black Lives. But as a young trainee, I sometimes feel the sentiment directed at James in 2018: shut up and doctor.
A few years ago, I found CrossFit. Since then, I have spent a large share of my free time training and improving my health and fitness. As with any sport, there was a large learning curve. However, as I trained, my mind and body adapted. I made strides both athletically and mentally that I never thought were possible. I never imagined that this preparation and development would translate to a seemingly opposing task: medical school.
Anxiety defined me more when I denied its existence than it does now that I’ve faced it head-on. Maybe the anxiety helped me get to where I was, but it was a burden I didn’t have to bear — especially not alone. Even knowing how important mental health is as a future physician, it embarrassed me to admit that I might need a prescription to help me cope with my fears and anxieties.
Rather than ask elderly poll workers to risk their health on Election Day, medical professionals and students can volunteer to work at polling locations. Health care professionals and students tend to be in a lower-risk population and are also well-versed in the public health practices critical to safely conducting an election during the pandemic.
How could I study for my next exam instead of focusing my energy on the crisis around me? Was I selfish for still worrying about doing well in school while others died alone in the hospital on a ventilator? In these moments, I found respite in “Learning in War-Time,” a sermon delivered by C.S. Lewis to the students of Oxford in 1939 just as World War II began. In this timely sermon, Lewis addressed the chief concern on students’ minds: Why continue to study philosophy or science “when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance?”
I have learned that patients seek health care services at free clinics for a myriad of reasons and some are atypical. There were specific populations I expected to see: the uninsured, underinsured, undocumented, and those without access to transportation. Yet there were other populations I was more surprised to see, namely patients who had insurance but preferred their experiences at free clinics.
I am worried that these stories of heroism are harming the very people they celebrate. By creating an ideal “health care worker” as an endlessly altruistic individual, it stigmatizes the medical workers who refuse to take on these risks — even though there are many legitimate reasons not to.
And with scientific advancements came cures and treatments that the healers of antiquity could have never imagined. However, these advances came at the cost of appreciating a holistic approach to health. How pitiful is it when a profession which was once completely focused on healing the whole person must now devote entire conferences and countless seminars to finding ways of injecting that back into both its practitioners and the people they serve?
It is not uncommon for transgender and gender non-binary individuals to be misgendered by health care providers or in the health care setting. This negatively affects their health and their relationship with their providers. Leaders in the field of transgender and non-binary health care recommend asking about a person’s pronouns and integrating pronoun introductions into the clinical setting.
So, what is planetary health? It refers to a burgeoning field focused on understanding the health impacts of human-caused disruptions of Earth’s natural systems, including climate change and environmental pollution. This also encompasses the immediate and downstream health threats from such disruptions, which have impacts on communities at the local level — Philadelphia is no exception.
When I began thinking of establishing an elective, I wished there had been a roadmap to follow to understand where to start and how to invest my time. Hopefully, by detailing my own process, which I’ve broken down into three phases, other students may feel that they too can take ownership of their education by developing something rooted in their passions for others to enjoy and learn from.
Medicine is a discipline that claims to be based on empirical and scientific truth about human nature. Instead, its knowledge and practice are often steeped in biases like racism. For example, medicine was used in the nineteenth century to justify slavery due to the “biologically inherent superiority” of White races.