Editor’s Note: The following guest post is by three UMHS students, all of whom traveled to the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) Policy Summit in Washington, DC last month. The students are active in UMHS groups on campus.
By Hector López, Karla Vázquez & Anelyn Martínez
Picture yourself as a seven-year-old child who was born to a loving family where both of your parents always wanted the best for you but weren’t able to supply as they wanted. Imagine that your parents, tired of feeling helpless and unsatisfied that their children were not receiving the best healthcare or an adequate education, make a broad decision that they think is for the best of the whole family and one day they wake you up, tell you to pack your things because “as a family we are crossing the Mexican border.”
Now move 15 years ahead of time and picture yourself as the young Mexican adult who crossed the border, managed to survive with all the living difficulties, language barriers, racism intrusions and now was accepted to an American medical school. After all the sacrifices and efforts, one day you receive a letter that says that your status as an undocumented individual will not be granted anymore and that it is very likely that you will have to leave the country soon and be deported back to your homeland.
On October 20, 2017, we experienced as a group how hundreds of medical students from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Etc., will be affected by the government’s decision of removing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and how this will potentially mark their future careers if nothing is done about it. This experience was provided to us by the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) on their annual Policy Summit which takes place every year at Washington DC. The event consists of a weekend full of advocacy training, personal networking and international awareness of all the issues that are affecting not only the Latino population, but also the international medical students that might feel familiarized with stories similar to the one above mentioned.
On the first day of this event, we had the opportunity to defend several bills regarding the DACA status, Puerto Rico’s Relief through the eradication of the Jones Act and Puerto Rico’s Health-care System. All the participants were spread into eight groups, and each group was scheduled to visit a total of four Senators and House Representatives offices. The goal was to promote the support from these representatives with regards to the DACA status with the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, the total removal of the Jones Act that costs millions of dollars per year to Puerto Rico and the pairing of Puerto Rico’s Health-care benefits to the ones received by the other 50 states. Not only we learned how to address government representatives appropriately on this day, but also to recognize the problems that thousands of other Latinos are currently facing.
Even though Puerto Ricans might be considered Latinos, we don’t have to face the difficulties that our fellow Mexicans, Guatemalan and Colombian colleges have to battle every year to maintain their temporary legal status to fulfill their dreams of becoming physicians. We are considered United States citizens, and it was an eye-opening experience to see how between all their struggles they still had the passionate drive to defend bills concerning Puerto Rico’s relief efforts for Hurricane Maria’s aftermath.
On Saturday, we had the opportunity to learn from different physicians how to employ advocacy and how important this is as part of our careers. We were reminded that we joined the medical field to provide wellness to our patients, but sometimes wellness comes at a price and this is where doctors and students can make a difference, by advocating toward a better future in which health care is more affordable to the patient and where preventive medicine surpasses offensive medicine.
On this day, one of our group members, Anelyn Martínez, had the opportunity to speak on behalf of all Puerto Rican medical students in order to promote the approval of a series of Mini-Grants, funded by the LMSA governing committee. The proposition’s outcome was to provide financial aid to the medical students that were affected by Hurricane Maria; the proposed motion was approved.
As future physicians, we are going to encounter multiple occasions in which Latinos are affected by a country’s decision; nevertheless, it is our duty to always advocate for them and always to bring the four pillars of ethics to our thoughts. Especially justice, which dictates that we should treat everyone the same way. This Policy Summit taught us to be aware of all the injustices happening in our world but most importantly, it gave us the tools to be combative for our patients’ rights and the ones of our fellow colleges.
Built in the tradition of the best U.S. universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individualized student attention, small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. For these reasons, UMHS is quickly becoming the school of choice among Caribbean medical schools.