On the morning of January 6, I awoke ecstatic to the news of Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s predicted wins in the Georgia run-off elections. To be frank, I have become hesitant to hope while inured by the near-daily attacks on civil rights by the Trump administration via executive orders and federal policies. Over the past four years, I witnessed with pride — but also fear — as community activists tirelessly organized to combat racist policies.
Above all else, do no harm. This is a basic tenet of a physician’s oath, but this oath does not always align with the religious and cultural beliefs of each patient. In cases where beliefs of faith, salvation or religion play a major factor in a patient’s desire to commit suicide, it can be difficult to draw the line between the traditional ethical guidelines of patient autonomy and non-maleficence.
Recently, several attending physicians sparked controversy on Twitter by implying that low-income medical students or trainees should not pursue careers in medicine. While these tweets have since been deleted, the systemic injustices that they echo still ring in the highest levels of modern medical education. As a medical trainee from an impoverished household, I have spent almost my entire post-secondary education and medical training as part of an invisible demographic.
My fingers tense. Frozen not of my own accord. I want to do this, but I can’t. I need to do this, yet the anxiety grips at my mind and throat, stalling what should be an easy decision. As a Black, gay medical student in my fourth year, what I’m about to do has so many repercussions and permutations. So much so that I feel stuck, unable to be decisive when decisiveness is necessary.
I have finally had enough. As a health care provider, COVID-19 brought about a lot of uncertainty and many changes in preparation for what might unfold. But over the last few months, the social unrest surrounding police brutality and the disproportionate occurrence of these cases towards people of color has added to my physical exhaustion by conflating it with both emotional and mental fatigue. After 32 years of tolerating systemic racism, it is finally my turn to say something.
When do you leap into the unknown and venture into the uncomfortable? Is it after methodical deliberation or is it much more abrupt, emboldened by a critical decision? Perhaps it is a deep drive within you, one that propels you forward in a way in which you cannot look back.
Earlier in February of this year, before COVID-19’s onslaught in London, UK, I was covering service on a respiratory ward when a young medical student made herself known to the physician’s office. “Could I borrow your stethoscope? I’m here to practice my respiratory examinations.”
Take a female physician — a doctorate of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) — dress her up in hot pink scrubs, give her Medical Terminology for Dummies, and have her read it upside down. What do you have? The answer is an advertisement for Figs Scrubs (@wearfigs).
“You could help us with our diversity efforts. If you came here, you could be a part of building up our diversity program.” Who said I wanted to help with your diversity efforts? Why hasn’t it been built up already?
In the pandemic’s wake, we witnessed the explosion of viral social media content such as Plandemic, an alternate exaggerated narrative which sought to perpetuate the types of claims one would expect from the title. These kinds of conspiracy theories have always existed in many different shapes and forms; however, COVID-19 struck at a time when society was suffering from a pre-existing condition of deep mistrust.
Recent events have highlighted a systemic problem within our world, our country, our state, and our community. People of color fight an uphill battle in every facet of life, at every socioeconomic level. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception — as we all know by now, patients from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately afflicted. But the spotlight has refocused on a chronic pandemic: systemic racism.
On June 1, I worked a shift in the trauma intensive care unit as riots and looting continued outside and the National Guard patrolled the streets. A group of nurses and I gathered around the police radio held up by two officers who accompanied a patient.