A colleague of mine once asked me a question that haunts me to this day: “If you care about social justice this much, why are you in medical school?” I was stunned, and I had no response to offer them. That day, I walked away to preserve my peace, but I have an answer now.
I have an answer for every doubter who believes that it is not a physician’s job to care about social justice.
This is our job.
It is our job to care about lives being harmed. It is our job to feel hurt when there is injustice around us. It is our job to lose a part of us every time we see an innocent life lost to this broken system, perpetuating this unfortunately vicious cycle. It is our job to advocate for people who feel that the system has failed them. Because it has. And it will continue to do so if we do not take a stance, even if it is a small one.
The role of today’s physician is more than to provide your typical definition of health care to a person. This care should never be limited to treating a patient’s symptoms. We were trained to do this well, and I hope that we continue to do so. Let us take this a step further. Let us do this impartially, let us do this together. Let us be mindful and appreciative of a person’s identity. Let us provide better care and stop treating someone’s identity as an offense instead of as a blessing. We have seen enough injustice in society and in medicine to keep this going.
In medical school, we are taught to be compassionate, kind, accepting, and considerate with our patients. We will never be able to do this If we do not accept and respect each person. Every physician should care about these factors because they are known to impact mental and physical health. Adverse childhood experiences, food insecurities, immigration, and other aspects of a person all affect their health and wellbeing. If we ignore this and continue with the mindset that advocating is not our job, how will be practice our life and art “in purity and according to divine law” as the Hippocratic oath we all swore to uphold states. If we do not and cannot understand the root cause of medical issues, then we are not doing our jobs as health care professionals. We are failing those who need us.
We are currently in a pandemic that has claimed over 100,000 lives in the United States alone. As we know, the lives of people of color have been disproportionately and negatively impacted. Is it not our job to understand what we are doing wrong? If each profession believes that someone else will do it, and if each professional claims that this is not their job, then whose job really is it?
It is ours.
It is our job to change the rhetoric on who physicians are, and what they are supposed to do. It is our job to be a part of the movement. It is our job to use whatever privilege we have to be the voice for people who are continuously unheard. How many more times do we have to hear the words “I can’t breathe,” to take them seriously? How many more lives have to be sacrificed for you to take a stand?
It is our job to advocate for our patients, whether that is in the hospital or in front of our local legislators. This is our job.
Simran Kripalani is a medical student.
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