Roughly 70 members of the Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Public Health communities, clad in traditional white lab coats, lay down in front of the medical school for four a half minutes today after assembling at noon.
The demonstration was part of the nationwide protests against the shooting of Michael Brown and choking of Eric Garner at the hands of police earlier this year. But this demonstration, part of White Coat Die-Ins held at medical schools across the country, also emphasized the effect of systemic racial inequalities on health outcomes for minorities.
“This is not just a political issue,” said Jessica Minor MED ’22 GRD ’22, the student who organized the event. “This is a public health issue. And, above all, this is a human rights issue.”
“We talk about mortality, and we talk about risk,” Minor continued. “Being black is a risk. It’s something we can’t deny, and it’s what this movement is asserting.”
The nationwide White Coat Die-In was set to occur at 12 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, but students chose to move it to midday, when people are out for their lunch break, to increase the protest’s visibility, Minor said.
Robert Rock MED ’17, who joined the die-in, said that it is important that future healthcare providers are trained and cognizant of how systemic racism can play out in patient-provider interactions and create health disparities. Among those disparities, he said, are the differences in cancer diagnosis rates between minority and non-minority patients.
“If you step back from that explicit event [the shooting of Michael Brown] and look at the situation in very congested urban areas where minorities live, it’s very much a health issue,” Rock said.
Ignacio Cerdena MED ’18, who participated in the die-in, added that simply living in intensely policed areas can result in post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms, which can be passed on for generations.
While the attendees of the demonstration came from a mix of minority and non-minority backgrounds, several participants noted that their experiences growing up motivated their interest in pursuing healthcare as a career, allowing them to tackle the nation’s discrepancies in access to healthcare.
Herbert Castillo Valladeres MED ’18, who helped organize the event, emigrated to the United States from Guatemala at 11 years old, and grew up in an extremely diverse Los Angeles neighborhood. He said he was happy to see that the die-in attracted students of all backgrounds and ethnicities.
“It’s important to have minority voices within these movements because at the end of the day, most people at medical schools haven’t faced discrimination in the healthcare system,” he said, noting that it is also important for non-minoriites to become part of these discussions because they have an important role to play in supporting the cause.
Four students interviewed commented that the medical school curriculum at Yale does not put a strong focus on social injustice and the negative effects it has on minority health. Genetic mutations and diabetes incidence in children, for example, have been linked with high levels of poverty. Black patients are also less likely to be given strong painkillers in the emergency room than are white patients.
Given the impact inequality has on patient-provider relationships, Rock decided to launch a pilot elective at the medical school called “U.S. Health Justice,” which trains students to better understand health issues through a socioeconomic perspective.
Dean of the Medical School Robert Alpern said that, though the school recognizes the importance of these types of courses, it is often difficult to fit in absolutely everything that a doctor needs to know in the time students attend medical school.
“We’d like to do more, but we are limited to four years and do as much as we can,” he said.
But Rock said he sees social advocacy and awareness as an integral part of a doctor’s responsibilities.
“As a health provider, I want to use my platform to draw attention to these things and ensure the future is better.”