Mercedes drove two hours to the nearest healthcare clinic to get her first physical exam in ten years. I met Mercedes while shadowing a primary care physician, Dr. L. In the clinic, Mercedes divulged to me how nervous she had been driving in – she knew what the meeting held in store. Her fears were confirmed: just five minutes into her exam, Dr. L advised her, “Mercedes, you have to lose weight.”
This unrest reached a high point in September, when nurse Dawn Wooten filed a formal complaint against Dr. Mahendra Amin, a Georgia physician working at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center, who she claims performed mass hysterectomies on detained immigrant women without consent. While the country reacted in shock, the reality is that coerced sterilization against communities of color is not new. The United States has a shameful history of exploiting Black and brown women’s bodies as part of a larger objective for population control rooted in white supremacy — and the medical field is partly to blame.
I wish it were different — / Dying patients, struggling hospitals, overworked healthcare workers, / topsy-turvy economies, politicized safety precautions, and the / uncertainty / of tomorrow.
It was a Saturday morning and there were close to fifty volunteers who gathered at a homeless shelter in Riverside, CA ready to give out hygiene care packages and offer free showers, haircuts, clothes, and food. Eager medical students and physician assistants provided free health care screening and visits. Efforts like these are fairly common — nothing groundbreaking.
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.
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.
President Trump signed an executive order this past June that directs the Health and Human Services Department to develop a rule requiring hospitals to disclose online the prices that insurers and patients pay for common items and services. The rule also requires hospitals to reveal the amounts they are willing to accept in cash for an item or service. However, hospitals not complying only face a civil penalty of $300 a day, giving them latitude to effectively ignore the executive order.
As many urban academic medical centers have become the world’s leaders in research and patient care, their bordering neighborhoods have suffered through decades of disinvestment and economic blight. Medical students often receive their first years of training in hospitals that serve these disadvantaged populations. While the current focus on social determinants of health represents a rising cornerstone of medical education, what else do medical students need to know about inner city poverty?
For a variety of reasons, the substance use population is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on data from previous financial crises, the emotional toll will increase rates of new substance use, escalate current use, and trigger relapse even among those with long-term abstinence. There may be a significant lag before these changes are detected and treated because health care resources are being funneled toward the pandemic.
The incidence of chronic disease is strongly correlated with aging. According to the Information Theory of Aging, aging results from a progressive loss of genetic material due to gradually worsening cellular repair mechanisms. This cellular erosion leads to a nearly interminable list of diseases, including but certainly not limited to cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative disease.
Mrs. H’s story is just one of millions of Americans who have become victims of structural violence and suffered from the social determinants of health. With a clearer understanding of the complex factors that contribute to patients’ health outcomes, I now aim to reunite the erroneously separated domains of medicine and social sciences.