The Beautiful Struggle
By Shaina Lipa, MD
One of the joys of medicine is having the privilege to heal patients on a daily basis; I am absolutely in love with it. But as cornerstones of the community — what do we (health care providers) do when the community healing process is a long-fought battle?
In my budding career as a physician, the climate around this struggle has surpassed entry-level cognizance. I now find myself dwelling on Black Lives Matter — its impact on my patients, my coworkers, and myself — in a manner as routine as morning coffee. Each day when I enter the revolving glass doors to my hospital, I’m thankful to be able to provide care to my patients. However, I’m eternally reminded that there are brothers and sisters in our community that are directly affected by disparities in healthcare. In academic circles, violence as a public health concern may be considered common knowledge. I find that it is often an unmet task to frame violence as a public health emergency that disproportionately impacts communities of color. As of late, a subset of violence, in particular – police violence towards the Black community – has become more pronounced. Sadly, this is neither new nor unfamiliar. But through the concerted efforts of technology and social media, outlets have extended awareness of these issues (see Agenda Setting Theory).
As “healers” and “fixers”, I feel convicted because I know that my community is suffering…and understand the underlying determinants (and therein lies the frustration of a conscious physician). When the videos of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling surfaced, I was upset, sad, frustrated (as many were), but also called to action. I had a sense of heaviness over me those next few days, and as I looked around at my colleagues, I recall that they were going about their days without any mention or maybe even care of these current events. This was an even greater reminder that we as Black physicians and other healthcare professionals are going to have to be at the forefront of change for our community.
Within a week of the tragic deaths of Castile and Sterling, I received a campus email (from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) stating that they were hosting a rally in support of BLM. I was brimming with excitement, mainly because I desperately sought to be part of the change and healing in our surrounding community. In addition, after being surrounded by colleagues who seemed to have no regard or awareness of this as a health disparity, I was looking forward to being around people who cared. I went to the rally, and it was just as positive and uplifting as I expected. There were students, residents, and faculty from various health professions all joined together for one cause: promoting the awareness of the public health issue of police violence towards the Black community.
As uplifted as I felt that day, I also felt that we as Black physicians and other healthcare professionals could not allow our rallies to be the culmination of our effort. We have to continue to fight for justice and equality for our community even after all of the media hype and emotions die down. I believe that we should be at the forefront of change in regards to health disparities affecting our community. Just as we continue to go to work every day in efforts to heal our patients, we must do the same with our community. So now, where do we go from here? What are the next steps for us as Black physicians/healthcare professionals? Let’s consider this an open dialogue — the conversation starts now.