Nicki Brodie - Patch Adams, Abortion Provision, Sexual Health
The AMSA convention was a great opportunity to learn more from leading experts about a variety of health care related issues, and also a fun way to meet other US medical students and to find out more about their schools and classmates. I wanted to share a few things that I learned and thought about at the convention that I think might be relevant to other MSIH students.
The first keynote speaker at the convention was Dr. Patch Adams. I was especially excited for this, because Patch Adams was something of a childhood hero for me and I was really looking forward to hearing about his approach to medicine and healing. While I found his message to be motivating—he essentially advocated for a more holistic and compassionate approach to patient care and doctor interaction—I ultimately found myself unsatisfied with his method. Rather than working within our very broken health care system, he suggested that the only feasible way to affect change was to work outside of the system, which he does through his “Gezundeit Institute” a hospital/patient care center that doesn’t accept any form of payment, where doctors live in the hospital as well. I found myself feeling like this approach just couldn’t work on a national level, and so I left his talk feeling less like I would like to be Patch Adams when I grow-up, and more like I would like to take his message in a different direction.
Luckily for me, this was on the first day of the convention. On day two, I think I got my answer—in the form of Dr. Gloria Wilder, a pediatrician and political advocate. Dr. Gloria (as she called herself) spoke in an extremely poignant (and often very funny) way about being raised in Brooklyn by a single mother on welfare. She then talked about her mission as a physician to work to end health-care disparities and to fight what she called “generational poverty”. Her approach was to found Core Health, an organization which trains and educates community members to fight against health care injustices in their communities and on a national level. In contrast to Patch Adams’ approach, which seems unsustainable and very Patch-Adams-centric, Dr. Gloria’s approach appeals to me because of its focus on community and on systemic change while still working within the system.
Now that I had found a new role-model, I attended another session at the convention that was very thought-provoking and inspiring by Dr. Willy Parker on being an abortion provider. Though I certainly consider myself to be pro-choice and even worked directly in the abortion services branch of Planned Parenthood, the idea of actually being an abortion provider seemed interesting but troubling to me. It is a little bit hard to explain why—perhaps it is related to the somewhat ambivalent stance that my understanding of the Jewish texts and traditions takes towards the issue that makes me unsure about making abortions a part of my career (certainly there are other people who perceive less ambivalence here…in both directions). In any event, I walked into the event expecting to hear from an enraged woman ranting about all of the injustices to women inherent in the system, and how we should fight the man, etc etc—not that I wouldn’t have agreed with her! But, Dr. Willy Parker (who is a man, as it turns out) spoke about his own religious upbringing and his own understanding of his religious traditions and his own journey to becoming an abortion provider. He spoke about his realization that, as an OB/GYN, if he truly wanted to tend to the health (in an expansive sense) of all of his patients he had to provide abortions. This really resonated with me, and made me more convinced about incorporating abortion care into my life as a physician, in a way that I can feel proud about and not uneasy or uncomfortable.
Another highlight of the convention was meeting other medical students. I especially was grateful to be able to meet my “classmates” from the Sexual Health Scholars Program, who I had gotten to know very well over web-cam over the last 6 months. The opportunity to see my fellow “sexperts” un-pixelated was really wonderful, and provided a nice sense of closure to a course that had been eye-opening and transformative for me in many ways. I also enjoyed being able to present my final project during the AMSA poster-session. I spoke to many students about our plan to teach MSIH first-years how to take a good sexual health history in a way that is culturally sensitive. Students were really impressed that our school had given us permission to take over the pre-existing class, and were eager to learn more about how they could approach their course coordinators and deans.
Over all, the AMSA convention was a great way to spend a weekend learning about broader health care issues than the relative location of the superior cerebellar peduncle, and to think more about some of the core values and ideals that made me want to become a doctor in the first place. I gained a lot from this experience and I would be happy to talk more about it with you, and to help you be in touch with any of the speakers from the convention.