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Picking a medical school that trains abortion providers

23 Jan

I visited colleges with my best friend when I was 16, hoping to jolt myself awake from my junior year case of senioritis. I predictably discovered that I didn’t know what I was looking for. We decided upon two (decidedly superficial) tests: First, did the admissions office give free frisbees? Were they the ones with monogrammed liberal arts school seals on them? Were they weighty, with a good lip, or were they cheap three-quarter sized neon knock-offs? And secondly, did the cafeteria offer chocolate milk, and if so, was it whole milk? Skim? Good chocolate syrup or a generic chalky powder?

I eventually chose one of those schools; realizing the vast number of factors actually more important than their chocolate milk or their free frisbees. And I developed into a person who cares about more and different things…but now I’m applying to medical school, with still two tests of my future happiness there. They are both of the social-justice variety, based in my professional interests, and tests of what kind of school I am interviewing at:

Test #1: Are there curriculum hours committed to abortion-training, and will the school help me find rotations that allow me to learn this skill set?

Test #2: Are there curriculum hours, a student group, and administration-commitment to training tomorrow’s doctors to care for folks in the LGBT community?

My most recent interview and visit left me not only certain I wouldn’t attend, but utterly discouraged. When asked about LGBT-inclusive healthcare training at his school, my student interviewer looked baffled. He mentioned the first name of “a girl who is involved in the student group, probably”. He also casually mentioned how uncomfortable he would be to ask “if my patient slept with boys or girls”. In response to the inquiry about abortion care, he felt empowered to share that he is a libertarian, so approves of a woman’s right to choose, but he wouldn’t feel comfortable performing an abortion or even referring someone to a different provider. He was also quite sure that “the school probably wouldn’t take action” against me if I pushed to do a rotation specifically focused on abortion care.

I’ve been able to stay excited in the often draining days leading up medical school by planning what kind of doctor I will be. Every doctor has a specialty (right now, I think gynecology and obstetrics for me), but every doctor also has a defined philosophy. Who will I be as a provider? How will I demand excellence from myself? These questions bring me back to the framework of reproductive justice: I will be a better doctor if I can understand every patient, their unique situation, and the forces in their lives that lead them to one decision and not another. Reproductive justice means an intersectional understanding of the struggles and triumphs my patients will experience in their journeys toward reproductive self-determination, and understanding my place as a medical professional.

Access to competent, quality, and respectful health care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals is reproductive justice. Access to competent, quality, and respectful abortion providers is reproductive justice. And despite being utterly thrilled and excited to interview at several medical schools, my experiences asking about these important issues have been disheartening at best, terrifying at worst. As respected as the medical profession is, and as difficult as it is to be admitted to school, doctors can only be as good as their training. My ideal medical school would train and nurture students to become tomorrow’s trusted, inclusive, and knowledgeable health-care providers, willing and able to help anyone who comes to them regardless of their choices, their gender identity, or their sexual orientation. It wouldn’t be bad if they had good frisbees and chocolate milk, too.

Why social workers should care about reproductive justice

12 Dec

After mulling over future career options, I decided to take a break from the reproductive health world and go back to school. This fall I began a Masters of Social Work program in Boston and am working with elders in public housing. Each day I am reminded about the resilience and humanity inherent in each of us. To me, social work means that I have the luxury of not forgetting that we are all capable of extraordinary things. I am loving it.

I chose clinical social work for varied reasons: I wanted do work organized through a justice-oriented lens, assist people to navigate complicated systems, and shift power. I also (more selfishly) wanted a job not in an office where I could talk to people all day. But I worried that I would miss reproductive health. When I made the change, I was concerned about leaving my community, identity as an activist, and work I was passionate about.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened.

One of the first things a budding social worker learns is that, like many professions, we have our ownCode of Ethics. It’s fairly detailed and encompasses a lot, from being a competent and professional practitioner to an obligation to engage in relevant social and political action. Reading through the Code, I was struck by how relevant and similar the principles were to my values as a reproductive justice activist. There is an emphasis on social justice, yes, but also on human dignity, respect, and client self-determination.

In the reproductive justice and abortion access world, I advocate over and over again for people to be able to make their own decisions. Reproductive justice means fighting for people to be able to parent or not to parent and being able to make that decision with dignity and respect; it also includes pushing for logistical, financial, and legal availability of services in order for people to be able to make those decisions. It means acknowledging systems of oppression that disproportionately impact people on the ground, policymakers, myself, and the organizations and communities I work in and for. It is also a commitment to fight to overturn those systems.

Social work follows those same principles. It mandates understanding individuals within the context of their environment and working for multi-level change. I think that this is why I have felt at home in the profession, at least so far. Social work values are reproductive justice values.

The problem is that not all social workers are familiar with reproductive justice issues and how they affect clients. For example, a social worker working with a low-income mom who is putting off paying her rent to pay for her abortion might not understand why the mom is taking that course of action. Similarly, a well-meaning social worker might be the person who reports a client’s abortion self-induction attempt as child endangerment, or who questions a mom’s decision to have another child when she is struggling to feed her existing children.

Each of these situations are difficult to navigate, and it’s up to social workers to avoid getting bogged down with personal or political feelings. No matter how we feel about abortion, welfare, or parenting, we can’t make that decision for someone else. It’s of critical importance to reflect on the Code of Ethics when thinking about clients’ reproductive health decision-making. We need to meet people where they are and understand and support their decisions. If we don’t, we are working within an oppressive system and not against it.

This being said, I am optimistic that social workers will tackle reproductive justice issues in the context of the Code of Ethics. Social workers are in unique positions to advocate for clients, so I also hope that other reproductive health/justice advocates will invite us to the table. We have a lot to say and an obligation to say it. Don’t be afraid to call on us or call us out.

I am looking forward to seeing more social workers included in conversations about reproductive justice and health care access, and I’m excited about navigating my dual roles as an activist and a brand new professional. I am thankful that I have learned so much working in abortion access that I can carry over to my new career. I know my activism will make me a better social worker, and my social work will make me a better activist. I am looking forward to where this journey takes me and what I will learn next.

To learn more about social work/reproductive justice issues, you should check out Social Workers for Reproductive Justice.

So You Want to be a Working Feminist!

16 Oct

In the five (six! six?) years since graduating college, I have worked in progressive non-profits, international humanitarian aid, at a start-up pro-choice organization, and for a few months as a volunteer in Rwanda. I don’t know how to quanitify this particular set of experiences, but an anonymous post back in July – Why is it so hard to find a feminist job? – led me to believe I might have something useful to contribute to the conversation. Let’s call this kind of employment “working for good,” whether it’s in reproductive justice or animal rights, fighting fracking or the keystone pipeline, or pounding pavement trying to get progressives elected to office.

So you want to work for good!

The absolute first thing you need to do is decide where this priority fits into your life. How important is it to you to work for good? And, once you have decided that this is a priority, how important is it to you that you get paid to work for good? In a previous post that sounds totally unrelated to this topic, “There’s No Right Time to Have Kids,” I made a point that is actually incredibly relevant to this decision-making process: you need to order your priorities. As Anonymous pointed out, the vast majority of for-good work is concentrated in metropolitan, coastal areas. If you want to work in policy, your options are DC, DC, and the occasional less hands-on job in NYC. If you want to work for one of the leading women’s-rights organizations, you’re looking at NYC, NYC, NYC, DC, and the occasional SF. If you want one of these jobs, you probably need to be ready, able, and willing to move. Probably at a moment’s notice, for very little money.

Why are all the “good jobs” concentrated on the coasts? Because that’s where the money is. Here’s an important thing to know: non-profit is just a fuzzy, friendly way of saying “tax shelter.” Some non-profits do really good work. Some non-profits do really crappy things. All non-profits spend an overwhelming amount of time fundraising. You won’t believe it’s real even when you’re part of it. Aside from that, it’s clustering. Many for-good jobs are in DC because the national office needs to be close to Congress. Many non-profit and feminist jobs are in NYC because you want to be where your colleagues are, where the UN is, and where you will have the most access to big events, TV stations, and – I mentioned money, right? – donors. It still isn’t a perfect system, because you’re always not somewhere. Executive Directors in NYC have to travel to DC frequently and vice versa, and everyone has to travel to LA.

I’ll move. How do I find one of these jobs? There are more job lists than you can possibly imagine. For DC jobs, for $5 a month (used to be free, sorry!) get on Tom Manatos’ job list. Check Congressional websites directly. Get on twitter and follow every org you love – they’ll often tweet job postings. Make a list of every place you want to work, figure out where on their website they post their jobs, and check that part of the website every few days (this is how I got my job in NYC). When someone mentions an org, go right to the website, and if you like it, add it to the list. AWID has a great feminist job listing you can sign up for. And guys – Idealist, Idealist, Idealist. I got one of my DC jobs from there. Contact your friends who do the work you want to do and tell them you’re looking, they will send you things. When you apply for a job, see if you know anyone who knows anyone. Lots of people want this work and not much of it pays, so knowing someone who knows someone might be the difference between your resume getting a cursory scan and being really carefully examined. Finding a job is work. It takes a long time, even for people with tons of experience and many contacts. The more flexible you are the easier it will be. And if you can’t or won’t be flexible, remember what you’re gaining. It’s not, “I can’t find a job,” it’s “I have a loving partner and a dog and I get to keep them and that’s awesome.” Remember, these are your priorities. You have to own them.

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Why is it so hard to find a feminist job?

20 Jul

A guest post from anonymous. 

In 2012, there is a War on Women, and feminist organizations are gathering all the help they can get. On Twitter and Facebook, at rallies and meetings, everywhere you go there is a cry for help and a push towards activism.

So why is it so hard to find a feminist job?

I’ve been looking for a job in the feminist-sphere for nearly a year now, with no success. While I see a few reasons why it’s difficult for me personally to find a job, I am having a hard time explaining why there is absolutely nothing out there.

There are two problems for me in particular. First is location. I do not live in a big metropolitan area, so there are fewer organizations around me. I have seen numerous jobs available in New York City, and wished I was able to move there for work. However, I am not able to do that. Of the jobs I have seen locally to me, a large majority of them require 5-10+ years of experience, or a Masters Degree or PhD. For someone my age, who has just come out of college and is looking to enter the working force, I cannot apply to the position of President, CEO, Senior Financial Officer, or other such jobs as I’ve seen.

But still my question remains: Where are the entry level feminist jobs? Where are the positions I can enter, learn about the organization, and grow to a leadership position from?

Maybe they’re out there, and I just can’t find them. The only feminist job listing I know of is on the Feminist Majority Foundation website. I appreciate its existence, but they list jobs by “region,” ie DC Metro, East Coast, West Coast, Midwest- which makes it really difficult to actually find a job (and you can be sure 98% of the East Coast jobs are in NYC). I have actually been told I’m overqualified for an entry level position once, even though I didn’t and don’t feel prepared to step straight into a management role yet.

Perhaps the big problem is the economy. Nonprofits must be having a very difficult time right now, and perhaps they don’t have the budget to take on new paid staff- which is perhaps why I’ve seen so many unpaid internship positions available. Alas, these positions are usually reserved for current college students, leaving new-grads like myself in a limbo of “not enough experience” yet “not young enough.” The economy is also probably responsible for why I feel so many organizations are emailing me daily asking me to donate my money, yet not needing any volunteers/workers at this time. Sometimes I think these organizations don’t appreciate me and other hobby activist (people within the movement who are doing it in their spare time), and just want our cash, cash, cash. However, I need cash too, to pay bills and buy groceries. If the feminist movement wants to keep hobby activists like myself around, they need to start finding ways to pay us for our involvement.

I am sure I will eventually find my dream job. There is so much need in the world for people who care and want to help, that I haven’t given up hope of finding a career that lets me help others. But I am coming to realize that it may take me longer than I originally thought to find my dream job.