Class of 2021 students and Social Justice Coalition leaders Raghav Goyal, Nina Dawson, and Samuel Epstein joined four hundred medical professionals, students, organizers, and activists from all around the world at the Social Medicine Consortium in Churchrock, New Mexico at the end of April. Their goal: to learn about the global landscape of preventive health interventions, and methodologies for incorporating social justice components into medical curricula.
Goyal says that he and his classmates were drawn to the conference because of two major projects they have ongoing – one is looking into which populations of people are being privileged acceptance to medical school and which are not and the other is looking at how the Vermont Integrated Curriculum could better incorporate training related to health inequity, and better highlight where it already exists in the curriculum.
At the conference, Goyal says they found a wide range of people “who are fighting to reduce health disparities using food prescriptions, building-height photographic murals, political activism, building cadres of place-based community health workers, and community organizing of every sort.” He and his classmates “came away with excitement and a growing sense of urgency that medical institutions in America are not adequately sensitive to the issues of health equity and populations-level health thinking.”
One of the conference’s speakers was Camara Jones, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine who has been a guest speaker at the Larner College of Medicine in the past. Her presentation focused on what Goyal described as “the deep importance of Naming Racism, abandoning White Comfort, and acknowledging and understanding how important race is when it comes to health.” The medical students learned about the history of the effects of unregulated uranium mining on the Navajo people’s running water supply, and, says Goyal, “how histories of chattel slavery and city redlining are the inheritance of African Americans today, and needs to be front and center when we speak about health in this country right now.”
Other takeaways for the students included gaining an understanding of the causes of health inequity and the roles played by wealth and advantage in creating disadvantage.
“The health landscape of today has come from generations of decisions, tendencies, and momenta that need to be understood, so that we do not make the same mistakes moving forward,” says Goyal. “We were inspired to come back to Vermont and bring the lessons that we learned from leaders in the Navajo Nation, Haiti, Uganda, Mexico, Boston, and Cuba with us as we continue to share these conversations with our peers, and with other medical institutions around the country.”