Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Health Disparities in Our Own Backyard

Tehreem Rehman

It has been quite some time since my last post. Qualifiers (the only thing close to finals at my school) consumed some time, but it was actually my recent engagement ceremony that predominantly preoccupied me for the past month. Spring break served as a much needed respite and I’ve truly come back feeling rejuvenated. Being away from my classmates made me realize how close I have become with some of them. My class certainly feels more like a family now and the sentiment is reassuring as this is the community I was craving when I began medical school. I cannot stress this enough to other students who are currently in the process of choosing which school they will ultimately enroll in: take the time to talk to as many students as possible to see if the school is a place you see yourself being supported and happy throughout an inevitably stressful academic journey. This is key when making the decision.

Spring break also allowed me to refuel and come back full force on an initiative I have recently been working on with a classmate. Early on last semester, I found myself becoming increasingly disenchanted with my education. I could not pinpoint what it was and assumed that it was probably feelings of being “burnt out” since I did not take a gap year (which I would also highly recommend all pre-medical students to consider!). Conversations with a peer, with whom I became increasingly close, helped me to discern that what was truly troubling me: an abrupt sense of a lack of health justice exposure in my pre-clinical curriculum. Both of us are truly invested in issues related to health care disparities and social medicine in the U.S. It’s why we applied to medical school in the first place! Yet, being unable to further develop our interests in this field kept us from remaining motivated in our other studies.

In a matter of time, we resolved to take matters into our own hands and incorporate a class on U.S. health justice into our curriculum. After all, our institution was in the midst of a process of significant infrastructural reforms in the medical education arena. For the past several months, we have been speaking with numerous faculty members who have all expressed much enthusiasm about our project; many have agreed to support our endeavor. We are currently striving to launch a pilot course based on feedback from faculty members at our institution and models established at other institutions that have already launched analogous programs across the country.

We are fortunate to have received such a warm reception from our school’s administration. In order to truly care for patients from historically marginalized populations, it is particularly important to address social determinants of health. Many medical schools across the nation have recognized this need, presumably realizing that it is imperative for medical students to learn in a more in-depth manner about social medicine and health disparities in order to best serve many communities.

The point of this course is not necessarily to encourage all students to go into primary care, although that is certainly a favorable trajectory considering the shortage of primary care physicians in underserved areas. The primary objective of this course is to expose our fellow medical students to social medicine and health inequities that many are not aware exist in their own backyards. Many studies have indicated that the attitudes or actions of individual medical providers can contribute to the existence of health disparities in this country. Such an awareness would undoubtedly benefit our future encounters with patients as we develop a deeper understanding of the history of the relationship between various populations and the medical establishment, the significant role that race/ethnicity and class plays on the lives of patients, and the nature of the communities that the patients come from.

About Tehreem Rehman

Tehreem Tehreem Rehman is a first year student at Yale School of Medicine.  She recently graduated from Columbia College as a John Jay Scholar with a B.A. in Women’s & Gender Studies. As a Co-Founder of Columbia’s Public Service Initiative, Tehreem was selected to be a People for the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) Fellow for the 2012-2013 academic year in order to expand the program. Tehreem has previously served as the National Chair of the American Medical Student Association’s Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Health committee and as a National Editorial Advisor for the New Physician Magazine. She is currently a Humanity in Action Fellow through which she intends to create a multi-school platform to address institutionalized racism and sexism in the medical school admissions process. Tehreem is interested in clinical interventions for violence, addressing gender power dynamics in the clinical setting, and the impact that health inequities have on women of color and low-income backgrounds.


2 thoughts on “Health Disparities in Our Own Backyard

  1. Hopefully other medical students being integrating such concepts within their education curriculum. A physician can treat patients with the best care when he or she recognizes all the converging factors that affect a person’s health. With encouragement from medical student’s like yourself, necessary evaluation and improvement can be made in our health care system.

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