March 02, 2017
I was in Washington, DC on Friday to attend the American Medical Student Association’s (AMSA) national convention. I knew about AMSA but had never been to the national meeting. What a wonderful organization and a treat for me to attend.
Founded in 1950, AMSA is committed to improving medical training and addressing the nation’s health with a focus on promoting health care delivery to all people; active improvement in medical education; involving its members in the social, moral, and ethical obligations of the profession of medicine; assisting in the improvement and understanding of world health problems; contributing to the welfare of medical students, premedical students, interns, residents, and postgraduate trainees; and advancing the profession of medicine.
I was invited to the meeting by one of our first-year students, Smridhi Mahajan, who serves as the national woman advocacy coordinator on AMSA’s Gender and Sexuality Committee. Smridhi has been involved in AMSA since her undergraduate days at UT-Austin and is the incoming president of our local chapter, leading student advocacy and empowerment. It was a pleasure to get time to spend with Smridhi and to learn firsthand what AMSA has meant to her professional development.
AMSA’s keynote speaker was Dr. Leana Wen, the Baltimore city health commissioner. She is a remarkable woman and her speech was quite simply inspirational. You may have watched Dr. Wen’s TED talk on medical transparency, which has been viewed more than 1.6 million times, or heard of her book, “When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests.” Dr. Wen received her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and completed clinical training at Brigham & Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals in Boston. She is board certified in emergency medicine and has two master’s degrees, one in modern Chinese studies and the other in economic and social history from the University of Oxford in England, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. She got her start in medical advocacy as a student, taking a one-year leave of absence from medical school in 2005 to serve as the national president of AMSA.
She stressed several points in her speech, which are worth sharing.
First, she talked about the need to share our success stories. Since so much of the news is gloomy, she underscored the need to flip the narrative with compelling stories. To emphasize the point, she shared several clinical success stories from Baltimore:
- B’more for Healthy Babies—a program to reduce infant mortality in Baltimore, targeting pregnant women based on individual need through the coordination of care with healthcare providers; a community advisory board; and communities of faith. As a result, infant mortality has decreased by 38% (saving about 50 lives per year) since implementation.
- Baltimore’s response to the opioid epidemic: Blanket prescription for ALL citizens of Baltimore for naloxone—with training in the communities on how and when to use—so that individuals are prepared to intervene and help in the case of an opioid overdose. With ~20,000 trainings to date, an estimated of 800 lives have been saved in 2 years.
Dr. Wen addressed not simply looking at the cost of an intervention but at the cost of doing nothing. This reminded me of a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Dr. Wen stressed the point that “public health saved your life today – you just don’t know it.” She talked about how prevention is a harder story to tell than the exciting rescue or surgery, but that public health saves lives by the millions.
She provided the example of the ongoing Zika problem – concerned that it took Congress too long to allocate funds despite the huge societal and personal costs of just one micro-cephalic child. The terrible price tag of doing nothing.
She ended with some powerful quotes: Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings has written, “We have an obligation to the generations of children not yet born.” And from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
I agree with Dr. Wen, each of us has a choice – we can stand on the sidelines and be angry in response to bad news, or we can do something to promote positive change.
Now it’s your turn. I invite you to share your success story so that we can promote the good news of McGovern Medical School. Tell me how your department, division, center, or colleagues are making a difference in our world.