This year was challenging in many ways. There were of course all the usual freshman struggles like adjusting to dorm life and dealing with the heavier course load of college, but looking back I don’t feel like those were the biggest challenges of this past year. For me, it was definitely the process of moving my career away from medicine and healthcare that I struggled with the most. I came here in September fairly certain that I would become a doctor someday. I don’t remember when that changed exactly, but it was pretty early on. After that though, I thought that I would still stay within the realm of health by pursuing public health, something I was lucky enough to get some first-hand experience in through a research position at SPH. I really enjoyed working there this year, and I thought that maybe this is what I could make my career focus. I felt really good about this for a little while, and stuck with it for a while even though I was having a hard time actually envisioning a career in this for myself. Then second semester I got a job working at a local childcare center, and that shifted my mindset even more. I remembered how much I loved working with kids – how that’s where my real passion lies. As I thought more and more about this, I realized that the best path for me would actually be teaching. This was not easy for me to accept, and even harder for me to admit to other people. I felt really conflicted about leaving the health sciences completely, especially since I really enjoyed my HSSP experience, academic and otherwise. I loved being around people passionate about careers in health. I’ve found it really inspiring, so it was hard for me to admit to myself that I didn’t have that same passion for this field. I’m so thankful for being challenged in this way though. I have since embraced my interest in education, and I haven’t felt happier about any other decision since coming to college. I think I’ve found my fit. It might have been an unexpected road to education, but I’m so excited to be here now.
Geraldo Rivera’s expose on conditions at the Willowbrook State School was utterly eye-opening. So often throughout the footage, I was struck by the hopelessness and the despair that was clear throughout the Willowbrook facility. These feelings were made evident through the lack of clothing, the extremely limited eating time, and the complete lack of activities or curriculum, among other things. Further, these aspects were only exaggerated by the sever understaffing. I could hardly believe it when I heard that the patient to attendant ratio was supposed to be around four to one, but was instead between 30 and 40 to one. William Bronston who worked as a physician at Willowbrook for many years aptly labeled Willowbrook as little more than a “human warehouse.”
What made these conditions seem even worse was the contrast between Willowbrook and the Californian centers. The children at the Californian centers were much happier, and this seemed to be a direct result of the different implementations of these centers. They had clean facilities, a personal health and academic plan for each individual, and they maintained family contact and connection as best they could. On a larger scale, this all was due to the fact that California invested more in their department of education than in large-scale institutions like Willowbrook. This choice definitely paid off for them.
Still the most notable difference between these two approaches was eloquently stated in the Rivera expose, “…the main difference between the approach of New York and that of California to the problem of caring for the mentally retarded is they treat the retarded as people, we treat them as something less.” I appreciated how this statement put so much emphasis on the humanity of patients. As I think about our discussions these past two weeks, so many of the atrocities boiled down to health professionals not recognizing the humanity of their patients. If we could only consistently get that right, so many of these ethical violations might never have occurred. It is now our responsibility to learn from these past failures and do our very best to prevent anything like them from ever happening again.
It’s hard to believe that this semester is coming to a close, though so much has happened since we all moved in this past August. As I reflect upon these last three and a half months a few particular experiences stand out to me. The first of these was my experience throughout general chemistry. Entering into fall semester, I was still toying with the idea of pursuing an MD/MPH dual degree. After taking the intro chemistry class, I realized that I had no real interest in the hard science of medicine. The observations that I took part in as a part of UC 105 reaffirmed this as well, since I had a hard time imagining myself working in a clinical setting like the ones I got to visit.
While these experiences discouraged me from continuing on a path towards medicine, several things were pushing me more and more towards public health. The most influential of these has been my experience in UROP. Currently, I’m working on a project at the School of Public Health, focusing on how gender norms and expectations affect modern contraceptive use in rural Niger. I am very thankful and very proud of this experience. It is still kind of unbelievable to me that I have the chance to work in my chosen field in my very first semester here at the University of Michigan. This coming summer, I look forward to building upon what I’ve learned in this project when I go to Uganda to volunteer at an orphanage, caring for displaced and disabled children.
The last, and most impactful experience of my first semester has most definitely been being a part of the HSSP community. Being a part of this community has helped me to become a stronger and more confident person, and has given me the opportunity to build relationships that will last for years to come. As I look towards next semester, I hope to continue building these relationships and continue to pursue my passion for public health in both my academics and extracurricular activities.
The healthcare industry brings together so many amazing things. As future medical professionals, we often think about the altruistic side of things – the saving of lives and the healing of the sick. However, we also have to remember that healthcare is indeed an industry, which makes it a lot more complicated. Hospitals, clinics, and essentially all other healthcare centers are businesses, and the government definitely has a huge impact on the ways in which they can be run. Our legislative and executive branches have worked on healthcare reforms fairly consistently since the nineteenth century, when a bill was first brought forward regarding how the state should handle those with disabilities. On this particular issue, both houses of Congress passed the bill, but it was ultimately vetoed by President Franklin Pierce. Ever since then, our federal government has experienced similar issues. The disunity between the branches of government, combined with frequent changes of administration have created huge hurdles for anyone hoping to pass healthcare reforms.
Take for instance President Bill Clinton. He was elected to his office with very ambitious plans to change the American healthcare system. His efforts were extremely admirable, but not necessarily handled in the best possible manner. He was very aggressive in his approach, setting out to submit a healthcare reform to Congress in just one hundred days, and putting his first lady, Hillary, in charge of it all. This act faced harsh opposition and was never even brought to a vote. Granted, Clinton did come back in his second term and supported the passing of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which expanded federal health insurance to millions of America’s children. Still, his first attempt was perhaps the largest healthcare reform failure in history.
On the flip side of that, our nation has recently seen some success in healthcare reform. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, was successfully passed on March 23, 2010. This was the culmination of so many years of attempted healthcare reform, so simply getting it passed was a huge accomplishment. While it still is far from perfect, it has definitely helped millions of people so far and has paved the road for future reforms as well.