Can professional development align with social justice?
Delayed gratification, but chewed up and spit back out again
This summer, I stayed at home and studied for the MCAT. Among other things, it’s a relatively important part of the foundation of my future. And it’s hard; believe me and the thousands of other students who crammed for the hundreds of rescheduled tests. Yet my friends and I have all been experiencing the additional mental burden of academic work during this particular summer.
What does it mean to read about oxidation and reduction in a galvanic cell when continued police brutality against Black Americans have galvanized the country into two opposing cells? To watch a Khan Academy video on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and know that more than 20% of Americans face food insecurity? Studying for a test with a $300 price tag feels unnervingly superficial given our current political climate, no matter how I look at it.
Doing well on my MCAT will set me up to go to medical school, where I will be learning about how we currently know how to heal, maintain, and cultivate the human body (or, I guess, the white male body). I don’t think there is any other profession in the world that combines science, service, and empathy so succinctly. I don’t think there is anything else I’d rather be doing in the world. However, a necessary step towards being a doctor is to study for and take the MCAT. I have to do well so that I can do good.
But in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking that I should be doing more now. I should be volunteering at a hospital, or delivering groceries to those who are quarantined. I should be participating more in the conversations about health-, race-, or poverty-related equity in our society. I should be at protests, if not carrying a sign, at least handing out water bottles at the medic tents. But I am doing none of those things.
What does it say that I have the means to study for an entire summer? That I don’t need to get a job or take care of young or ailing family members? For all the money I’ve given, petitions I’ve signed, and discussions I’ve been part of, it always feels like I could be doing more if I were not studying for the MCAT. With the movement to prevent mundane Instagram posts from returning, going on with my study plan seems like a lack of acknowledgement of the revolution outside.
This feels like guilt. Heavy, smothering guilt that I am not doing enough today, and when I finally find the time tomorrow, it will be too late. But, as we’ve all seen on social media, guilt is not the way forward, and centering the conversation on my guilt is the last thing I want to do.
Now that my test is over and we are all preparing to start a new semester, I think it’s more important than ever to continue consciously learning (and unlearning!) about what our society is and can be. It would be all too easy to slip back into the pattern of lecture, recitation, pset, midterm, but is my GPA really more important than social and political engagement?
Medicine (along with academia) commonly removes itself from political discourse as one of those fields that serve people, regardless of political ideology. One thing that I’ve been trying to do is learn more about the racism and sexism built into the medical system, not only in the care provided to the public, but also in medical education. Why is it that every medical school application costs upwards of $200 with secondaries, when students are applying to nearly 25 schools each cycle?
Taking the time to read one article a week about what the medical field has put patients through, whether conscious like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study or unconscious like feeling the need to portray a loved one as “a good person,” is a stepping stone. I hope it will help me reflect on the profession I intend to enter, and I hope it will remind me to judge slowly and empathize quickly. After all, you have to be aware of the problems before you try to fix them.