My initial interest in medicine was piqued during my freshman year as I listened to Dr. Paul Farmer, a leading global health expert and human rights activist, deliver a lecture on tuberculosis. He spoke about the role of social justice in healthcare, and the need for more funding and research to be allocated towards conditions that disproportionately affect underserved communities. It was my first realization that as a physician I could combine my love of science and my passion for social justice. His lecture, and subsequent public health courses, inspired me to think critically about how I can reduce the health inequities that permeated the communities around me.
It was also during this time that my grandparents moved to the United States to avoid the ongoing violence in Mexico. This placed a large financial burden on my family and, consequently, I became financially responsible for my academic and living expenses just as college began. I worried that working nearly full-time would hinder my ambition to pursue a medical degree, but I firmly discerned that my situation provided an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the medical field outside the classroom. It was in this pursuit that I began as a medical scribe. The extended hours of the hospital allowed me to work nights and weekends, and then attend class during the day. One evening a man, paralyzed from the waist down, presented in the emergency room complaining of a pungent smell arising from his wheelchair. During his physical exam, we found a large ulcer on his buttock deep enough to expose bone. His injury, the result of tremendous neglect, required surgery to prevent the infection from taking his life.
The patient reported that he had been evicted from his apartment and, now homeless, had been unable to attend his physical therapy sessions. I was shocked by the cascade of events that allowed for a pressure ulcer to develop into a life-threatening condition. My heart dropped as physicians explained the consequence of his injury to him, and I wished there was more that I could to help.
My experiences at Providence Emergency Room brought the consequences of health disparities from a distant concept learned in a classroom to a desperate reality. As a public health student, I was taught to elucidate the barriers that hinder access to care, and I could recite in great detail provocative statistics about health inequities. However, while working in the emergency room, I was humbled by how much I still did not understand about the hardships faced by people in my community. There was an inherent limitation to the amount of empathy that could be taught inside the classroom, and I realized that my perspective from inside the classroom often subconsciously reduced
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