SNaHP Shots is a regular column featuring interviews with SNaHP members from around the country who are committed to passing universal healthcare legislation in their lifetimes.
Where are you from? Where do you attend medical school?
I grew up in Corryton, TN which is about 30 minutes north of Knoxville, TN and attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where I studied Chemistry. Following graduation, I spent a year as an AmeriCorps Health Promoter in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago where I taught students about oral health, nutrition and sexual health. I am currently a second year medical student at East Tennessee State University, and I am interested in going into a primary care specialty or Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
Where are you located, and who is/are your state representative(s)?
I live in Johnson City, Tennessee, which is in Tennessee’s First District. The House of Representatives member from the first district is Dr. Phil Roe, MD, and our two Senators are Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. Tennessee has 9 House of Representatives members in total. Both Senators and 7 of our representatives are Republican. Two House members are Democrats.
Despite your busy schedule as a medical student, why have you decided to devote your time and energy to the movement for universal healthcare?
I feel that advocacy is a crucial part of being a physician and learning to be a physician. We have a responsibility to advocate for our patients, and we have all or will all come across patients who do not have health insurance. The best thing we can do for them is to advocate for universal healthcare.
What personal experiences have shaped your decision to take action?
The experience that has most shaped me has been my experience as an AmeriCorps member in Chicago before beginning medical school. Through this experience I got to know individuals in a community that was underserved and not always able to access the care that they needed.
How has your involvement in SNaHP encouraged others to join this struggle or to take a closer look at a single-payer healthcare system?
I think at my school, people have come to associate me and a few other classmates as being very politically and socially engaged so it just naturally comes up in conversations with many of my classmates. Some of the best conversations I have had have been with folks who did not agree with me. Oftentimes, I could share new information about single payer and help them consider issues they had not previously considered. Likewise, they often bring up difficult questions about single payer that challenge me to learn more and hone my knowledge.
Do you see the right to healthcare as a single issue or one that is linked with other human rights efforts?
The right to healthcare is inextricably linked to other human rights movements. There are glaring disparities based on race, gender, socioeconomic status and disability status just to name a few. How do we expect individuals to educate themselves, seek employment, build their own businesses or simply enjoy their lives if they do not have access to quality, affordable healthcare? Health is foundational to many aspects of our lives, and it is a moral failing that we allow such stark disparities in healthcare to exist because these disparities are often closely linked to poor health.
Do you believe that universal healthcare will be achieved during your lifetime?
Yes, I believe it will be achieved. I’m not sure what form “universal healthcare” will ultimately take, but I believe we will ultimately reach that goal. Living in a predominantly red state, I have many friends, classmates and colleagues who do not agree with me on a variety of issues, but what the vast majority of us do agree on is that everyone deserves a base level of healthcare guaranteed to them.
What are some things in your city or state that you can do to make universal healthcare a reality?
First, go out and vote!! And don’t just vote in national elections. Vote in your local and state elections too. Learn about the candidates. Call them. Tell you what you believe in. It is very easy to forget about local and state politics but so much can be influenced at these levels.
Second, join local organizations. If your school has a SNaHP chapter then join it if you haven’t already. If there is a county political organization that you support, join it! They will help connect with opportunities to get involved.
And keep calling, writing, faxing your state representatives. Make sure they know that you support healthcare for everyone!
What has been one of your most gratifying/momentous/hopeful/inspiring experiences as an advocate for single payer?
I think it’s gratifying how often I’ve been having this conversation lately. This conversation was not a very common one just a few years ago and now it has really been gaining traction due to the recent legislation proposed by Congress.
What is one thing you want to share with your medical student colleagues who are not SNaHP members?
Join us and come to our meetings! You don’t even have to be certain that you support single payer, but please join us! The key to making progress on improving healthcare in our country is frank conversation. We all want to improve healthcare for our patients and for everyone in the country. Coming to a consensus will require us to have open conversations about our concerns and how we can address them. As future physicians, we will have a powerful influence on the future of healthcare in this country and it’s important that we take that seriously and work together to improve healthcare for our patients.