Political advocacy campaigns such as Black Lives Matter and, specifically, White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL) challenge the medical community to actively advocate for the communities we serve. As students from diverse ethnic, religious, demographic and cultural backgrounds, this cause hits close to home. The osteopathic medical community counts many leaders who understand that social justice and health care go hand in hand, and that advocacy for one leads to improvement in the other:
- William G. Anderson, DO, who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for civil rights in the 1960s.
- Joel Weisman, DO, who fought tirelessly for adequate treatment and preventative services for demographic groups susceptible to contracting AIDS in the 1980s.
- Margaret Aguwa, DO, who currently advocates for equality of education for youth in Michigan.
We value the history of osteopathic medicine serving and advocating on behalf of underserved patients. Black lives, like all lives, matter—and they all matter equally. This is especially true in health care, which is why we support the mission of WC4BL.
Two White Coats for Black Lives initiatives we are working to promote are:
1. Encouraging academic medical centers to serve the health care needs of their local communities, particularly the needs of patients of color.
A distinctive characteristic of osteopathic physicians is that we are passionate about practicing in underserved areas that often have limited access to health care. The Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, New Jersey, has the opportunity to serve several diverse communities of southern New Jersey.
RowanSOM’s Student National Medical Association chapter has been working with local churches to assist them with their health screening events. As a community, RowanSOM students run a free health clinic, the Camden (New Jersey) Community Health Center. This center provides care to the city’s large African-American and Hispanic populations.
2. Preparing future physicians to be advocates for racial justice.
From the first tenet of the osteopathic philosophy, we learned that the person is a unit of body, mind and spirit. As future osteopathic physicians, we need to be prepared to provide holistic care for all patients and be aware of what patients from diverse backgrounds may go through physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and how those experiences affect their overall wellness.
Along with RowanSOM student government officials, we are working to create initiatives to raise students’ awareness of health disparities and social issues that patients of different races, cultures, genders, religions and sexual orientations may encounter. To that end, our school is planning a Diversity Week which will include guest speakers and student presentations with the overall goal of promoting cultural competency and awareness of health concerns in different cultures. We hope this will be an annual event.
On campus, we have also shown support for WC4BL through live demonstrations and the use of social media to show solidarity with the campaign’s mission.
WC4BL and osteopathic values
Political advocacy campaigns such as WC4BL are important because their focus on health care equality hits at the heart of one of the core values of osteopathic medicine: the holistic (mind, body and spirit) well-being of all patients we serve. WC4BL’s goal is to address more than just a racial dichotomy; it addresses a nationwide health care disparity—an American problem which the medical community cannot ignore. The power to treat, to serve and to advocate for those who are underserved is in our hands; let’s continue to use it.