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.