Over and over again, I find myself repeating the same words to myself as I watch the sunset over the Sacramento River on my dreary commute back from my job in clinical research: hope over fear.
It was with hope that 2020 began—a catalyst year in which we had the wind at our backs and the promise of a better future just over the horizon. 2020 promised the inevitability of change, whether through the U.S. presidential election, the start of a new decade, or for new college graduates like myself, the opportunity to begin to impact our communities. The possibilities stretched as far as the stars in our galaxy, effervescent and limitless. The cruelty of such possibilities lost for people across the globe as they fell victim to SARS-CoV2, in conjunction with the innumerable, festering catastrophes of the modern age—leaves lingering questions for the American youth. Exactly what sort of future are we looking at?
As an entering medical student set to matriculate in 2021, especially in the face of the global pandemic, I often ponder what my purpose will be in the future. In many ways, our country is staring down the barrel of a gun, and a shot has already been fired in the form of COVID-19. We are wounded, and our “preexisting” conditions—inequity across numerous sectors, including health, healthcare, political, economic, and education (to name a few), all disproportionately negatively impacting several social communities including but not limited to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQIA+, those that are differently-abled, and those suffering from houselessness—leave our outcomes looking rather bleak.
Volunteering through student-run clinic organizations at UC Davis with urban disadvantaged communities in the Sacramento region, however, offered me a glimpse at a solution. Hope is central to medicine. It is the act of choosing to look to the future, not with despair, but with the faith that we will persist and persevere in our pursuit of both wellbeing and justice. I found hope in the eyes of an arthritic seventy-six-year-old grandmother, confident that she could regain some mobility through at-home exercises we translated for her in her native language. I found hope in the eyes of a forty-something-year-old man to whom we directed resources on finding cheaper insulin for his diabetes. And I found hope in the eyes of a woman in her early twenties, battling postpartum depression and coping with a history of abuse, finding the strength to share her story in free group therapy. These patients have taught me that the greatest impact physicians can have in reshaping not only individual health outcomes but community health outcomes occurs when they take the time to honor and respect these narratives that they are entrusted with, empowering patients to be able to better advocate for their own health and bringing their voices to the forefront.
Furthermore, equitable, community-based, patient-centered, systems-aware care is not investing in fantasy. It is investing in hope. The hope that incoming medical students can confront the modern age problems and shatter the status quo as physicians to mend a system with a checkered past that has for far too long catered to white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men while failing our most oppressed communities. The hope that our medical schools will stand with us to unlearn our internal and systemic biases to uplift the disadvantaged and provide us with the education and the tools to do so. We are young, yes, but when given the option to believe we can make a difference or believe our efforts are wasted, why shouldn’t we go with the former?
In the spirit of the campaign of our president-elect, Joe Biden, choose hope over fear. Choose to believe that we have the chance to build a brighter future. Choose to believe that change is coming, carried on the shoulders of those very same communities that have been downtrodden for far too long. And finally, choose to believe that you, you personally, also have the opportunity to create the change that you want to see. We are counting on you.
Shreya Kumar is a premedical student.
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