The Role of the Healthcare System in Eliminating Institutional and Structural Oppression

I am black, I am a woman, and I am visibly queer. In most aspects of society, my compound minority status limits my opportunities. Fortunately, I am also a third year medical student. This grants me both an enormous amount of privilege and an astounding platform. Through my experiences and my identities, I have been tasked with an unknowable amount of responsibility. I spent much of my preclinical years learning how to use my voice. I checked my peers, educators, and facilitators on their micro-aggressions. It became a perpetually exhausting duty. I reminded myself of the fact that these teachable moments were opportunities and not obligations.

Mobilizing within the national #WhiteCoats4BlackLives campaign has allowed my passion for breaking down barriers and promoting social equity to keep the fire burning within me. The culture of medicine is traditionally unforgiving. Even those students, residents, and physicians naturally gifted with emotional intelligence lose sight of their humanity. Healthcare providers have a responsibility to be advocates for patients. I hold these things to be both truth and self-evident.

I have often felt lost in the white supremacist culture of medicine. I am no longer sheltered in the safe environment of the School of Medicine. I have been in the “real world”, witnessing encounters in broken Spanish, disparaging remarks about patients with poor health literacy, overt paternalism in lifestyle counseling, and abhorrent bedside manner toward patients of color. I am acutely aware of my place in the hierarchy of medicine, and detest my complicity in a system that keeps so many people out.

I am calling for academic medical centers to promote equality and equity for all people, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, documentation status, health literacy level, education level, military status, first language, English fluency, HIV status, socioeconomic status, housing status, and past or present drug use. I am calling for academic medical centers to stand up to institutionalized, personally-mediated, and internalized forms of oppression. I am calling for academic medical centers to stand for health equity and intersectional justice.

Healthcare providers and health care systems should not contribute to or perpetuate any form of oppression. It is our duty to Do No Harm.

“I will maintain the honor and the noble traditions of the medical profession. I will not permit consideration of race, religion, nationality, ideology, or social standing to intervene between my duty and my patient. I will maintain the utmost respect for human life and its quality.”
Hippocratic Oath, Modified Geneva Version

I am calling for action.

White Coats for Black Lives
Medical Students for Justice
Vanessa Ferrel on LinkedIn

by Vanessa Ferrel, MS3