Our Hope for the Future
I recently had the privilege of being invited to attend a lunch talk for social justice, an ongoing regular session organized by our medical students. (See the excellent article by Michael Okoronkwo, Class of 2019 in the Top Stories section of this issue of The Pulse.) These talks were initiated by the students and grew from their desire to meet so they could discuss social injustices that may be present in the SOM and in medicine in general. Even more, their desire is to figure out ways that students can become more active in initiating larger forums and discussions within the SOM to facilitate change.
The room was full of students from diverse organizations: the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), LGBT+Allies Organization for Cultural Understanding in the Health Sciences (LOCUS), the Asian Pacific-American Medical Student Association (APAMSA), and the newly formed Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA). I looked around the room and saw African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Caucasian, men, women, straight, gay, lesbian… a truly diverse group of students.
As I listened to their discussion, remaining silent in the back corner of the room, I was struck more than once, and struck very deeply to my core, by the eloquence with which they discussed the social injustices they have either witnessed or personally experienced as students and as members of the medical profession. I heard them confess that they themselves have and/or had personal biases, some conscious but more often than not biases that they didn’t even know lurked in their mind until they found themselves in situations that brought these unconscious thoughts to the fore.
What struck me the most though were the discussions that revealed the level of self-reflection and personal change that they underwent to correct their biases. Through these reflections they came to the realization that as minorities they need to put aside these prejudices and work together, not at odds with each other, to present a unified front. Only through acting as a unified body do they believe that they can make a larger change, not only here at the SOM and LSUHSC, but within the health profession in general.
At the risk of revealing my personal political leanings (which those of you who know me know I have no problems revealing), recent events in our country have given me a sense of sadness, unease, and cynicism. I feel that our country is moving backward with respect to social and minority issues instead of forward. However, as I sat there and listened to these students, and through my interactions with students during my cultural competency lectures, I realized that we are in a transient time in history and that these students, and others of their generation, are truly our hope for the future. I realized that the seeds of change have already been instilled in the fabric of our nation and it is the next generation, their generation, that will tend these seeds into lasting change.
It is the students we are teaching and mentoring today who will become the leaders of tomorrow. They are the ones who will become clinicians, faculty, and administrators at hospitals and medical institutions all around the country. The thoughts, ideas, and opinions they have now will help to initiate change locally in the short term and on a broader scope in the future. It’s only a matter of time before discussions in the lunch social justice meetings spread out to include the SOM in broader forums. As these students graduate and move on to their future careers, they will spread what they have learned to others, taking this knowledge with them to new institutions to affect change on a more global level.