Happy Halloween! Living up to tradition, Phi Rho (our medical student co-ed fraternity) hosted a Halloween bash and I was very impressed with my classmates’ costumes. As an ode to Dr. D’Alecy, the head of our cardiorespiratory sequence, Lauren and I went as his lecture slides:
Below, I write about a recent seminar hosted by the Health Equity Scholars Program (HESP), a med student organization focused on learning about health disparities and on community service.
“I feel so sorry for people not living in Detroit!” This provocative statement opens the documentary, American Revolutionary, which explores the life of Detroit activist and revolutionary Grace Lee Boggs. Her simple statement set the stage for a 90-minute seminar, “Learning from History: Grace Lee Boggs and the Competing Narratives of Detroit’s Past, Present, and Future,” presented by UM Professor Stephen Ward, and hosted by HESP. The class was thought provoking, energizing, and one of the best I have attended at UMMS.
Professor Ward challenged our group of M1s and M2s to consider differing narratives of Detroit’s history: a “rise and fall” narrative in which Detroit rose to greatness, fell to despair, and may be beginning to experience a comeback; and a “communities” narrative, in which Detroit’s many communities have continuously evolved and changed over time, each encountering moments of prosperity and hardship. “Which narrative empowers Detroit’s citizens?” asked Professor Ward, “Does one narrative diminish people’s continuous presence and their work for positive change? What does the phrase, ‘making a comeback,’ imply about Detroit’s past and its current direction?” The discussion flowed. The comeback phrase was explored extensively. Professor Ward presented us with Boggs’s view, that social change – or “revolution,” as she called it – comes from constant evolution in the face of challenges. In her eyes, challenges arise continuously, and only innovative solutions to these challenges will propel us to a better state of being. This process, repeated over and over, is her revolution. Boggs saw Detroit as an opportunity for societal growth without repeating our unsuccessful history – as a place ripe for revolution.
At the end of the seminar, the conversation turned to medicine and we considered our roles as future physicians in Detroit and the world at large. Professor Ward challenged us to apply Boggs’s model of revolution to medicine, to think beyond fixing the problems in front of our noses and to imagine our ideal healthcare system on the broadest level. “What does that healthcare system look like? What does care in that system entail?” I began to imagine clinics connected to community centers, fresh-produce grocery stores, and exercise centers; co-op healthcare systems; prescriptions for college education; smart phone patient check-ins; and a different payment system, yet unformed in my mind but tantalizing in its possibilities. Revisiting a theme encountered many times at Michigan, we reflected that to be a leader does not necessarily mean to stand in front of the multitudes, but rather to exemplify change. Ultimately we will all lead, and we must each determine what that will mean for each of us in our own context. At the seminar, we considered the possibilities of where our leadership could take us and our communities.
In medical school it is easy to get lost in the minutia and focus so much on physiologic problems and their pharmacologic remedies that I forget to consider issues in our healthcare system and the remedies these complexities demand. I am glad to participate in HESP, where I have found a community of diverse, thoughtful, and talented classmates who push me to consider these larger issues. And I am grateful to Professor Ward for challenging us to analyze our thought patterns, rethink our beliefs, and engage our imaginations to envision the healthcare system of tomorrow!