Categories
Clinical General Healthcare Costs Healthcare Disparities Law Public Health Quality Improvement

On Public Charge

A step forward or a step back from self-sufficiency?

By: Souma Kundu

At the start of 2020, I remember the Trump administration celebrating what it saw as a victory for “self-sufficiency,” and “protecting law-abiding legal citizens from undue tax burdens”. Following a battle in the lower court, in a much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling, the court sided 5-4 with the administration, allowing enforcement of the 2019 expansion of the Public Charge rules.

This court ruling on Public Charge marks only the latest iteration of a policy dating back to the 1882 Immigration Act. While the definition and enforcement has varied over time, the essence of the law remains true to its origins: immigrants who are deemed unable to take care of themselves without becoming dependent on public assistance are unsuitable for American citizenship and therefore denied entry. Historically, public charge was determined by a holistic review of an applicant’s circumstances including age, health, financial status, education and skills. The use of public benefits for cash assistance and long-term institutionalization could be considered in this review, but other programs such as nutritional/housing assistance or public insurance were not included. In 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) expanded on the existing criteria to consider public benefits such as supplemental nutrition assistance, Medicaid or public housing. Additionally, it stipulated that the use of any of these public benefits for more than twelve months within any 36 month period may classify an applicant as a “public charge” effectively making them ineligible for permanent residency.

At the heart of this policy’s long-standing history is a deep-rooted belief that self-reliance is inextricably linked to the worth of an individual. It also posits that requiring public assistance is not only a burden to society, but one that is unlikely to be paid off or utilized for eventual gain.

But is this policy, and its predecessors really helping us increase self-sufficiency? Or is it robbing the US of its vast current and future population of contributing citizens? Even more pressing in 2020, is the impact of enforcing public charge during a pandemic leading to an underutilization of health care and resources only to increase morbidity and mortality across the nation?

From the lens of a healthcare worker, the general concern that efforts to rehabilitate lead to dependence baffles me. In medicine, from a sprained ankle to a surgery, achieving ultimate goals of “returning maximum function” all depend on how we can aid the healing process along the way. Generally, the use of a brace to offload the weight of a broken foot is not contested. Neither is the need for physical therapy to retrain our muscles after injury. But when it comes to rehabilitation of a person, our nation is much more skeptical of the process.

The abundance of research in the US and other countries on long-term effects of various welfare programs such as cash assistance, nutrition, and housing, point to the overwhelming benefits to the health of the recipients. Interestingly, benefits can also be seen towards community, by way of increased rates of labor participation, education attainment, employment status and productivity (Banerjee, Blattman, et. al). In a 2019 study on long-term economic impacts of childhood Medicaid, researchers found Medicaid-eligible children had higher wages starting in their twenties with wages increasing as they age. By the time these children reach age 28, their expected annual tax on earnings will return 58 cents for each Medicaid dollar spent to the government (Brown 2020). Providing basic human needs can be life changing – and it seems not just an ethical imperative, but a sound investment.

As many physicians, policy makers, immigration lawyers and researchers have feared, the changes to public charge determination is adding fear and confusion, resulting in underutilization of services available to immigrant families. Even programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is exempt from public charge review, have experienced a decrease in utilization.  An early impact study of public charge since enforcement began in February 2020, showed a 1% increase in the US’ noncitizen population that was associated with a 0.1% drop in child Medicaid use, estimated as a decline in coverage of 260,000 children. Researchers attribute this drop in enrollment to the fear and misinformation spreading amongst immigrants around public charge (Barofsky 2020).

As a medical student in San Diego where roughly two-thirds of our county’s population is Spanish-speaking, the impact of fear-mongering could not be more clear. Since the start of the pandemic, our once overflowing children’s hospital emergency department has been eerily quiet. Parents are worried for the safety of their families at the cost of health consequences from delays in care. At a time when access to medical care is imperative, our patients without documentation fear being turned away, or worse, turned in.

Meanwhile, disenrollment affects more than just immigrant families foregoing public assistance. Safety-net hospitals which rely heavily on Medicaid and CHIP payment are estimated to be at risk for a loss of $68 billion in health care services for Medicaid and CHIP enrollees (Raphael 2020). A drop in Medicaid enrollees will lead to increases in uncompensated care, lower Medicaid and CHIP revenue, alongside the cost of complications and emergencies secondary to foregoing early/preventive care. The fear and reluctance that public charge has created is not a simple reduction in federal spending, but rather a shifting of the burden with downstream financial havoc.

With the ample evidence that negates the assertion that the use of public assistance dooms one to a lifetime of dependency, and evidence to the contrary, that foregoing use has downstream effects on society, I urge us to rethink the dominant narrative around welfare and its implications for our nation. If we reject the belief that we must limit the use of public resources in favor of nurturing our communities most in need, we are much more likely to manifest our nation’s values of self-sufficiency and unlocking its potential. I’m not asking you to give up on self-reliance, I’m asking you to invest in it.


References:

  1. Blattman C, Jamison J, Green E, Annan J. The returns to cash and microenterprise support among the ultra-poor: a field experiment. SSRN Journal. Published online 2014.
  2.  Banerjee AV, Hanna R, Kreindler G, Olken BA. Debunking the stereotype of the lazy welfare recipient: evidence from cash transfer programs worldwide. SSRN Journal. Published online 2015.
  3. Brown DW, Kowalski AE, Lurie IZ. Long-term impacts of childhood medicaid expansions on outcomes in adulthood. Review of Economic Studies. 2020;87(2):792-821.
  4. Barofsky J, Vargas A, Rodriguez D, Barrows A. Spreading fear: the announcement of the public charge rule reduced enrollment in child safety-net programs: study examines whether the announced change to the federal public charge rule affected the share of children enrolled in medicaid, snap, and wic. Health Affairs. 2020;39(10):1752-1761.
  5. Raphael JL, Beers LS, Perrin JM, Garg A. Public charge: an expanding challenge to child health care policy. Academic Pediatrics. 2020;20(1):6-8.
Categories
Clinical Community Service Emotion Empathy General Healthcare Disparities Opinion Public Health

Let Me Be Brief: Community Leadership

A series of briefs by Texas Medical Students

By: Fareen Momin, Sereena Jivraj, and Melissa Huddleston

In the ever-evolving field of medicine, it is no surprise that the idea of leadership in medicine has changed over the years. Some physicians have engaged in additional leadership in the context of politics. In fact, several physicians signed the Declaration of Independence.1 Today, physician community leadership extends much further. Physicians can engage with their communities and beyond via virtual platforms. Physician “influencers” use social media to provide quick answers to patients, and physician-patient interactions on Twitter alone have increased 93% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.2 With physician voices reaching ever-larger audiences, we must consider the benefits and ramifications of expanding our roles as community leaders.

Medicine and politics, once considered incompatible, are now connected.3 There is a long list of physician-politicians, and community members often encourage physicians to run for political office, as in the case of surgeon and former representative Tom Price.4 Physicians are distinctly equipped to provide insight and serve as advocates for their communities.5 Seeking to leverage this position, a political action committee (PAC), Doctors in Politics, has an ambitious desire to send 50 physicians to Congress in 2022, so they can advocate for security of coverage and freedom for patients to choose their doctor.6-7 There are dangers, however, when physicians take on this additional leadership role. For example, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist, has spread medical misinformation, telling those who have had COVID-19 to “throw away their masks, go to restaurants, and live again because these people are now immune.”8

It is not practical for even those medical students who meet age requirements to run for office. What we can do is use our collective voice to hold our leaders accountable, especially when they represent our profession. We can create petitions to censure physicians who have caused harm and can serve as whistleblowers when we find evidence of wrong-doing perpetrated by healthcare professionals. We can also start engaging in patient advocacy and policy-shaping with the American Medical Association (AMA) Medical Student Section and professional organizations related to our specialty interest(s).

To avoid adding to confusion, statements by physicians should always be grounded in evidence. Dr. Fauci’s leadership is exemplary in this regard. He has worked alongside seven presidents, led the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, and has become a well-known figure due to his role in guiding the nation with evidence-based research concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.9 Similarly, Dr. John Whyte, CMO for WebMD, has collaborated with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to advocate for safe use of medication and to educate those with vaccine apprehension.10 Following these examples, we should strive to collaborate with public health leaders and other healthcare practitioners and to advance health, wellness, and social outcomes and, in this way, have a lasting impact as leaders in the community.


  1. Goldstein Strong Medicine: Doctors Who Signed the Declaration of Independence. Cunningham Group. Published July 7, 2008. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://www.cunninghamgroupins.com/strong-medicine-doctors-who-signed-the-declaration-of-independence/
  2. Patient Engagement with Physicians on Twitter Doubles During BusinessWire. Published December 17, 2020. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201217005306/en/Patient-Engagement-with-Physicians-on-Twitter- Doubles-During-Pandemic
  3. WHALEN THE DOCTOR AS A POLITICIAN. JAMA. 1899;XXXII(14):756–759. doi:10.1001/jama.1899.92450410016002d
  4. Stanley From Physician to Legislator: The Long History of Doctors in Politics. The Rotation. Published May 15, Accessed February 2, 2021. https://the-rotation.com/from-physician-to-legislator-the-long-history-of-doctors-in-politics/
  5. Carsen S, Xia The physician as leader. Mcgill J Med. 2006;9(1):1-2.
  6. Doctors in Politics Launches Ambitious Effort to Send 50 Physicians to Congress In 2022. BusinessWire. Published May 27, 2020. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200527005230/en/Doctors-in-Politics-Launches-Ambitious-Effort-to- Send-50-Physicians-to-Congress-In-2022
  7. Doctors in Accessed February 2, 2021. https://doctorsinpolitics.org/whoweare
  8. Gstalter Rand Paul says COVID-19 survivors should “throw away their masks, go to restaurants, live again.” TheHill. Published November 13, 2020. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/525819-rand-paul-says-covid-19-survivors-should-throw-away-their-masks-go-to
  9. Anthony Fauci, M.D. | NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Published January 20, 2021. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/about/anthony-s-fauci-md-bio
  10. Parks Physicians in government: The FDA and public health. American Medical Association. Published June 29, 2016. Accessed February 2, 2021. https://www.ama-assn.org/residents-students/transition-practice/physicians-government-fda-and-public-health
Categories
Clinical General Healthcare Cost Healthcare Costs Healthcare Disparities Innovation Patient-Centered Care Primary Care Quality Improvement

Let Me Be Brief: Medicaid Expansion

A series of briefs by the Texas Medical Students

By: Ammie Rupani and Alwyn Mathew

In 2019, 18% of Texans had no form of health insurance.1 650,000 Texans have lost their health insurance due to unemployment during the pandemic. The rate of uninsured Texans is staggering and has only been worsened by the pandemic. During this critical time, we must talk about Medicaid Expansion and the potential solutions for millions of people with no health insurance. As a medical student, I have seen patients defer life-saving medications such as insulin in order to afford rent or groceries. Consequently, these choices have brought such people to the Emergency Room in diabetic ketoacidosis, which could have been easily avoided with regular insulin treatments. Stories like this are far too common in Texas, and it is important to recognize such outcomes are easily preventable with improved access to health insurance coverage. How can we as students learn to treat people, when the system we are bound to  practice in is perpetuating their very diseases?

Retrieved from Texas Comptroller

Medicaid is a health insurance program managed through the Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicaid is currently jointly funded by the Federal and State governments with the Federal government matching each dollar the State spends. Texas Medicaid is primarily a fee-for-service model that has poor reimbursement rates and high administrative burden that discourages physicians from accepting Medicaid in their practice. Currently, Texas Medicaid coverage is only offered to children, pregnant women, seniors, and people with severe disabilities, who also fall below a certain income threshold. For example, a single mother making minimum wage at her  full-time job is not eligible for Medicaid because she earns too much. However, she does not qualify for Federal subsidies covering some of the insurance cost because she does not earn enough. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 would help address this woman’s dilemma since Medicaid Expansion would cover all individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, amounting to $16,643 for individuals and $33,948 for a family of four. Medicaid Expansion would provide a health insurance option to an estimated 2.2 million uninsured low-wage Texas adults.2

Although the original arguments against Medicaid Expansion in Texas focused on States’ rights and limiting Federal dependence on funding, the primary opposition to this program was the Federal mandate. In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Federal government could not mandate the Expansion of Medicaid in any State, leading to Texas and several States opting out of the program. Realizing the benefits and improvement in health outcomes, several States have since adopted the Expansion program offered through CMS, including Arkansas (2014) and Louisiana (2016). Currently, Texas spends nearly $40 billion (State and Federal funds) for the Medicaid program, with a 60-40% distribution between the Federal and State Government respectively.3 Expansion would be fiscally sound for Texas as it will reduce the strain on our State budget and draw in more Federal resources. Looking past the dollar amount, it is crucial that medical students and other healthcare professionals recognize the benefits of improved access and early medical intervention that can be achieved through Medicaid Expansion.3


TMA’s Legislative Recommendations4
  • Develop a meaningful, statewide health care coverage initiative using federal dollars to:
    • Extend meaningful coverage to low-income uninsured working-age adults, and
    • Establish a state-administered reinsurance program to reduce premiums for people enrolled in marketplace
  • Provide 12-months’ comprehensive coverage for women who lose Medicaid 60 days
  • Establish 12-months’ continuous coverage for children enrolled in Medicaid, the same benefit given to children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

  1. Accounts TCof P. Uninsured Texans. Retrieved from- https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2020/oct/uninsured.php
  2. How Many Uninsured Adults Could Be Reached If All States Expanded Medicaid? – Tables. KFF. https://kff.org/report-section/how-many-uninsured-adults-could-be-reached-if-all-states-expanded-medic aid-tables/. Published June 25, 2020.
  3. Federal and State share of Medicaid Spending, 2019, Kaiser Family Foundation- retrieved from – https://kff.org/medicaid/state-indicator/federalstate-share-of-spending/?dataView=1&currentTimeframe=0 &sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22State%22,%22sort%22:%22desc%22%7D
  4. Provide Meaningful Health Care Coverage for Uninsured Texans. Texmed. https://texmed.org/Template.aspx?id=55300.
  5. Status of state medicaid expansion decisions: Interactive Map, 2021. Retrieved from- https://kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/status-of-state-medicaid-expansion-decisions-interactive-map/
Categories
General Global Health Healthcare Disparities Innovation Public Health Reflection

A Call to Action: The Unified Front of #Students_Against_COVID

Beyond borders, beyond languages, and beyond our differences students across the world have united with a common purpose to serve and create a positive impact. With over 1000 students comprising more than 90+ countries, #Students_Against_COVID, a grassroots movement has served as the cornerstone for creation, purpose, fulfillment and fostered collaborations throughout the world allowing students to join forces in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

#Students_Against_COVID Volunteers, Friends & Family

The Power of Technology

The Spanish Flu or the 1918 pandemic over 100 years ago, vastly differs from the COVID-19 pandemic due to the availability of technology. Since then, there have been many advancements with new medical equipment and instruments to care for patients. Many cures for diseases or drugs that were impossible decades ago are now a reality due to the hard work and diligence of researchers in finding answers to the centuries’ old medical mysteries. During the Spanish flu pandemic, scientists could hardly imagine elucidating the nucleotide makeup of the virus, but with the advent of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) half a century later, in today’s technological landscape, within 2 weeks of a global emergency scientists were able to determine the sequence of the coronavirus genome. Within seconds, a text message from South Africa is transferred via the internet to Canada, and as such the spread of information and misinformation has appeared to be an added pandemic, namely the infodemic of the century.

Objectives of SAC, the Grassroots Movement

One of the core objectives of SAC in tackling the infodemic and the pandemic, has been to disseminate trustworthy information as quickly as possible and in as many languages to reach minorities, villages and people far away. From Pashto in Afghanistan, Turkish in Turkey, German in Austria, Hausa in West Africa, Yoruba in Nigeria to Lugada, the most prestigious language in Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa”, students have translated different COVID-19 campaigns.

Social Media Campaigns Translated

The objective of the Global Health & Social Media Team has been to echo public health guidelines to stop the transmission of the infectious disease and to encourage those with symptoms of COVID-19 to seek medical assistance. Despite the socio-economic challenges for many without access to the internet, the major global health challenges the international community face will require an integrated, interdisciplinary approach addressing the political, cultural, legal, biological, and medical issues. Therefore acknowledging the role of technology in tackling the ongoing pandemic the team aims to eliminate avoidable disease, disability and death, while serving as an avenue of health promotion and disease prevention.

Blood Donations Campaign

As such, important values, such as altruism, service in times of crisis, and solidarity with people around the world offered the chance, or opportunity of a lifetime to participate in the fight of this historic pandemic. Stemming from leadership’s most fundamental element to create a difference in the lives of others SAC therefore provided students with a platform to unleash their creativity and innovation necessary to navigate a crisis and to emerge from it healthy.” by Leah Sarah Peer

Additionally, with increased reliance on virtual platforms for connection and socializing, telehealth technologies for consultations, counseling sessions and physical examinations, physicians have been able to continue providing care while maintaining social distance. Similarly, educational institutions have transitioned to online remote learning where students and professors meet over interactive technologies such as Zoom and Google Meets for lectures. Medical students especially have had their clerk-ships suspended without direct patient contact while others have graduated early to serve as front-line clinicians. In this manner, technology has defied space and time, as it has not only exposed the fragility of humanity but also proved that technology is an integral part of our future evolution.

Women’s Health Team

A Spark of Creativity & Innovation

With more free time for students, as the usual commutes to school, scheduling of classes and extracurricular in person activities were all cancelled they were able to invest in themselves and even develop new hobbies. Within SAC, it was evident that despite the negative impacts on medical education, these exceptional times represented opportunities for change. Such an example is that of the Clinical Resources Team, that curated a database of clinical resources for health professionals to access COVID-19 & medical information. This volunteer experience among many highlighted the value of non-graded elective courses in furthering student’s knowledge while allowing them to participate in a movement greater than themselves. As such, important values, such as altruism, service in times of crisis, and solidarity with people around the world offered the chance, or opportunity of a lifetime to participate in the fight of this historic pandemic. Stemming from leadership’s most fundamental element to create a difference in the lives of others SAC therefore provided students with a platform to unleash their creativity and innovation necessary to navigate a crisis and to emerge from it healthy.

Besides making a difference, SAC provided a sense of community where friends soon became family. In isolation many were reminded of our collective values and collective history, emphasizing society at large rather than individual self-interest.

The Mental Health Team sparked the beginning of students inspiring one another, of sharing their own stories as well as becoming listeners as a crisis naturally triggers a range of physiological and psychological responses that are heightened under lock-down. The earlier trauma and abuse students faced often resurfaced as the lost sense of normalcy triggered grief with feelings of denial, anger and depression.

Women’s Health Team Activities

Bearing the consequences in mind, the Women’s Health Team of SAC drafted up a list of domestic violence hotlines per country for individuals afflicted by domestic violence. To them, having access to these resources during quarantine was vital and therefore have further created campaigns on sexual health, reproductive rights, maternal health and “The Period Project”, all aiming to raise awareness for the challenges girls and young women are faced with. Passionate about women’s health, to commemorate international breastfeeding week, educational material was prepared celebrating womanhood while promoting access to skilled breastfeeding counseling. 

Advocating for Vulnerable Populations

Nonetheless, the #Students_Against_COVID community rarely sleeps and while students are taking care of themselves, and those around them, they are also actively advocating for vulnerable populations.

The Asylum Seeker’s & Refugees initiative within SAC aims to raise awareness about the predicament of minorities by creating infographics, and posters. Furthermore, underway is the curation of a database of World Organizations & Charities for donations so that donors have access to places where their funds are needed and may be used wisely. In a catastrophe such as that presently in Lebanon, the database gathers recognized Lebanese Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) providing humanitarian aid and emergency relief.

https://twitter.com/zohaasghar16/status/1294311683150815232?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1294311683150815232%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.voicesofyouth.org%2Fnode%2F25666
Co-Leads of the Asylum Seekers & Refugees Initiative Shedding Light on the Yemen Humanitarian Crisis

Additionally, bearing in mind the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team recognizes the plight of refugees suffering from human rights violations. Whether  forced to leave their homes, their communities and their families, to find safety in another country, the Asylum Seekers & Refugees Team within SAC abides by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to assure all human beings are treated with respect and dignity. Since, by definition, refugees are not protected by their governments, the international community steps in to ensure the individual’s rights and physical safety while monitoring and promoting respect for refugee rights. Although the newest edition to #Students_Against_COVID family, the team’s aim is to strengthen and broaden public information, education and involve members of the civil society in refugee, asylum seekers and migrants protection.

Asylum Seekers & Refugees Initiative Team’s Showcase Saturday

Reflecting on the Past Year & Moving Forward

Recognized for it’s positive contributions internationally, #Students_Against_COVID was awarded the Pollination Project grant, won 1st place in the DICE Foundation COVID-19 Innovation Challenge, as well as the 2021 CUGH Pulitzer Prize for Highest Impact Project, Video Submission.

#Students_Against_COVID Global Health Program
Besides these accomplishments, currently in the works and set to launch late spring to early summer 2021, is the creation of a unique, Global Health Program: An interdisciplinary Overview. It’s aim is to cultivate a better understanding of Global Health amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the program hopes to connect global health enthusiasts from around the globe, introducing students and young professionals to critical global health issues and ways to address or solve them.
Happy New Year 2021 – A Recap & Reflection of the Movement

As the crisis evolves, compassionate leadership entails the unified efforts of changemakers championing science in both local and international theaters. Although words may not adequately serve to express the work and dedication of this virtual agora, pushing boundaries to inspire, help and motivate people is at the centre of the #Students_Against_COVID movement!

To join SAC or to become a part of this ever expanding network of motivated youth, check out our website, find us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Youtube.

About the Author

Leah Sarah Peer is a medical student at Saint James School of Medicine in Chicago and a graduate of Concordia University, Specialization in Biology, Minor in Human Rights in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As a Core-Facilitator within Students_Against_COVID, Leah aims to foster belonging and inclusion to unify the movement and compassionately strives to empower others to make a difference.

Categories
Community Service Emotion Empathy Global Health Healthcare Disparities Innovation Medical Humanities Patient-Centered Care Public Health Reflection

Beyond Medicine: The Peer Med Podcast, Serving Humanity !

Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.” – Voltaire

The covid-19 pandemic has claimed millions of lives, shut down economies, restricted movement and stretched our healthcare systems to the edge; but despite this time of destruction, Peer Med, a podcast dedicated to serving humanity was born! Established as a platform for creation, innovation and above all a platform for unity.

A student-led initiative of the Peer Medical Foundation, the Peer Med podcast intertwines medicine, an ever changing science of diagnosis and treatment, with conversations about issues in healthcare where lives are on the line. Due to the fashionable focus of medical education on biology, pathology and disease there has been a reduced emphasis on the social determinants of health. As such physicians lack an empathetic character understanding the human aspect of medicine and in this, fail to communicate effectively rendering patients dissatisfied with care.

Seeing the need for more fruitful discussions, the Peer Med Podcast provides listeners with a more nuanced interpretation encouraging health professionals to look beyond medicine and into the experiences, values and beliefs of patients to assure a successful therapeutic relationship. It serves as a reminder of the importance of self-determination, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice as medicine naturally exposes health professionals to the darker side of human existence. The podcast explores these themes by delving into the underbelly of life where homelessness, drug addiction, abuse, trauma, and death are brought to the surface of conversations. It takes the already prevalent cases of strokes, pneumonia, heart attacks, fractures, and miscarriages from the everyday scenarios in emergency rooms plaguing our species and encourages a more humane outlook amidst all conflict and chaos.

“Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.”

– Voltaire

Founded on March 24th at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Peer Med is dedicated to humanity and the millions of people worldwide without access to education, health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. The podcast aims to inspire, engage and promote action to solve challenges in global health, human rights and medicine. Acknowledging that the delivery of healthcare requires a team effort, the podcast invites everyone from clinicians, advocates, economists and even comedians to delve into the subjects of medicine. While peer-reviewed information is important, not all valuable work belongs in an academic journal. In order to strengthen health systems a multidisciplinary set of perspectives is required to teach and inspire people. Therefore, Peer Med encourages dialogue so that all listeners may raise their voices advocating for humanity.

Ensuring Peer Med is truly a global podcast is the goal but despite the best intentions to ensure inclusivity, barriers in terms of gender, language, and access prevent this from happening. To tackle the problem, Peer Med aspires to invite speakers from all corners of the world, not only to assure equitable representation but to also gain advice on how to empower those in low-and-middle-income-countries (LMIC) so that their voices may be heard. In serving humanity, Peer Med is completely free and available on a variety of platforms aiming to leave listeners refreshed, empowered and motivated to effect change. These can be heard from a mobile phone, shared via social media, or played for a friend. The conversations will leave listeners burning with a flame in their hearts to do their utmost on life’s quest to serve humanity.

It serves as a reminder of the importance of self-determination, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice as medicine naturally exposes health professionals to the darker side of human existence. The podcast explores these themes by delving into the underbelly of life where homelessness, drug addiction, abuse, trauma, and death are brought to the surface of conversations. It takes the already prevalent cases of strokes, pneumonia, heart attacks, fractures, and miscarriages from the everyday scenarios in emergency rooms plaguing our species and encourages a more humane outlook amidst all conflict and chaos.

Leah Sarah Peer

The support for the podcast has been humbling as love has poured in from around the globe. So many are keen on sharing their stories and this speaks volumes to the passion of the podcasts’ guests, their enthusiasm and commitment to mankind. Some have included a world renowned speaker and human rights champion, a Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter, teacher and PhD candidate in Comparative Literature, a range of student initiatives – Meet the Need Montreal, Helping Hands, to Non-profit Organizations such as Med Supply Drive and so many more.

World-Renowned Humanitarian & Neuroscientist, Abhijit Naskar

If there is something the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s the power of community and compassionate care’s strength in uniting us across the world. Peer Med hopes to serve as a medium for inspiration, for reflection, and invites people from across the healthcare spectrum to come together committed and dedicated to serve humanity.

To listen to Peer Med, visit Spotify, Apple Podcasts. To read about the individual episodes visit the website for more.

Categories
Global Health Healthcare Disparities Medical Humanities Public Health

Medical Students as Advocates for Change

At a time when demand for advocacy is high, opportunities for medical students to develop these skills is waning. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocating for those less fortunate is not just the duty of medical professionals’ but the correct action of any human being. 

With a long and deep rooted tradition in medicine, advocacy calls upon physicians to speak up on behalf of patients, the vulnerable and those in dire need of assistance. Due to the respect physicians have as leaders of society, and of the trust individuals have in the medical system, they are able to influence policies that benefit their patients and the healthcare system.

Therefore, as students-in-training, when given the opportunity to advocate for our patients, and positively affect interactions in medicine, these occasions ought to be seized particularly if we want to change the landscape of disparities and injustices that are rampant in America. By encouraging medical students to engage in advocacy efforts, the concept of physicians as advocates becomes a step closer to normalization as well as their humanity strengthened when engaging with the medical system outside of their usual role. 

Given the lack of awareness, or an unrealistic view of the difficulties, and interactions that prevent a successful physician-patient relationship, medical students need to be empowered with advocacy skills to create physicians who are capable of treating diverse populations such as refugees, the homeless, and other disadvantaged patient groups.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, movements such as #Students_Against_COVID, Students vs Pandemics, and a Coronavirus Global Awareness Magazine have been born. These times of chaos have proved to be the fruit of innovation sprouted by the desire to serve and rise above obstacles. Besides these efforts, medical students seeing the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) created a Non-Profit Organization, MedSupply Drive which gathered medical students across America uniting in the collection of equipment required for professionals to protect themselves while serving on the front-lines. 

Other students passionate about advocacy have had to seek extra-curricular positions in the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMSA), American Medical Student Association (AMSA), American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), Australian Medical Student Association (AMSA), Asian Medical Students Association International (AMSA International) and American Medical Association (AMA) to raise their voices for tangible and effective change. They have organized campaigns on the Affordable Care Act, MedVote, Global Gag Rule, contraception, and gun safety among others. The Global Health Committee, the AIDS Advocacy Network as well as numerous LGBT+ Communities have also met with senators and representatives to discuss important state and national bills affecting health care. 

In Canada, students have formed a coalition known as the Medical Student Response Team where they’ve created an app to efficiently distribute community support during the pandemic. Such responsibilities involve assistance at the homeless shelter, collecting grocery items for the elderly or virtual storytelling opportunities for children. Others have come up with ways to create ventilators for vulnerable populations in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan. Medical students foreseeing the problems afflicting indigenous populations sought indigenous translators to translate COVID-19 related information into their local languages for dissemination and understanding in order to keep themselves safe.

As a result of the anti-black attitudes and of racism prevalent in our societies, students have stepped up to educate citizens through the sharing of books, websites and videos to learn more about the issues prevalent in society. Medical student, Malone Mukwenda from the United Kingdom took it upon himself to co-author a textbook, Mind the Gap, a clinical handbook of signs and symptoms in black and brown skin. This book was inspired by the lack of racial diversity in medicine as medical dermatology textbooks failed to adequately educate physicians on conditions affecting those of non-white skin. Other student initiatives have been propelled by the desire to fight the information epidemic where misinformation about COVID-19 has been spread across Latin America. Extremely dangerous and perpetrated by those taking advantage of peoples’ confusion, and fear, COVID Demystified, a group of senior undergraduate students, graduate students and early-career scientists from universities across North America have come together to bring research on COVID19 to the people. This stems from their desire to make science accessible to all, therefore the information presented in their posts are all from peer-reviewed, published studies in reputable journals. 

While support of experiential learning in advocacy is needed, much work is to be done if evidence-based advocacy training is to become readily accessible to current and future health professionals nationwide. Even though advocacy takes many forms, occurring at multiple levels of engagement such as individual, local and national, all are valuable. At an individual level for example, physicians advocate for timely diagnostic tests and regionally for groups of patients seeking funding from a health provider. At a system level, physicians advocate for activities to improve the overall health and well-being of populations and globally encourage international support for health related environmental protection. 

From letter writing, social media campaigns, to one on one discussions with authority figures, advocacy techniques and strategies may vary. When speaking publicly, physicians should be clear when their comments are made in a personal capacity or on behalf of a third party and while many physicians are skilled advocates, these abilities are not natural for all physicians. Most often, advocacy is then a learned skill developed over time .

As healthcare providers and leaders, physicians can help improve and sustain the health systems by approaching issues with transparency, professionalism and integrity. Through informed perspectives and the use of evidence-based facts to help persuade others, now more than ever will patients continue to look to their doctor as a trusted source for healthcare information and support. Consequently, advocacy efforts will only increase in importance as the rise in injustice, neglect and falling economies continue and although advocacy’s definition in healthcare is evolving, physicians may show leadership by remaining engaged, committed and seeking to advance their viewpoints in a professional appropriate manner; for then only may they truly serve humanity before anything else. 

Written by,

Leah Sarah Peer

Categories
Emotion General Global Health Healthcare Disparities Interview Narrative Reflection

Out There: Part 1 (An Interview Series)

Out There: Part 1

By Janie Cao
Edited by Mary Abramczuk

I met Thanos Rossopoulos through a community service leadership program. As with almost everyone I’ve met, I stereotyped him at first glance (subconsciously, of course). I thought that he was going to be like most other first-year medical students I’d met before—smart, hardworking, and…pretty fresh from college. And guess what? I was only mostly right.

The first time I heard him share his story, we were at a group dinner. I was sitting too far away to hear everything but at the perfect distance to want more. He said something about ‘7 gap years,’ the oil and gas industry, and living in India. That was enough to nag at my curiosity, so I unashamedly asked for an encore. He graciously obliged.

Like many people in their early twenties, Thanos wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with his life when college graduation arrived too soon. He remembered that at the time, he’d just wanted to do something exciting, something risky, something “radical.” So when they offered him an engineering job that would put him in the oil rigs of India for one and a half years, he said yes. There, for the first time in his life, Thanos stared into the glare of deprivation. Not really what he wanted, but perhaps what he really needed.

Growing up in Orange County, California, he had been raised in a privileged “bubble,” as he called his sheltered childhood. But he didn’t know how sheltered he was until he stepped foot into India, where he saw mansions and slums coexisting side by side, all in broad daylight. “It took India to force me to face inequality,” Thanos reflected, “and it didn’t sit with me well.” What he made sound like ‘just a slightly uncomfortable feeling’ was in fact the beginning of a tenacious zeal to alleviate human suffering. He was a tad modest.

The impact of those years in India manifested powerfully after he returned home. Whereas in the past, he did not even know to look for inequality, now that was all he could see around him. So, what did Thanos do next? What would you have done?

To be continued…

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Photo Caption: "...Taking a stroll in the morning before my shift on the oil rig. If you look closely out in the distance you see the top part of the oil rig I worked on behind the trees. This was from a small village called Radhapur in the state of West Bengal. Very beautiful place." -Thanos Rossopoulos