Written by Irène P. Mathieu is a pediatrician and writer.
The week after the recent presidential election felt like the longest of my life. Like the rest of the country, I watched the the events of November 8th unfold with a mixture of emotions. That night I was on the edge of my seat in an overnight call room deep in the pediatric hospital where I work. It felt surreal. In the aftermath, we have seen an extraordinary spike in hate crimes, from swastikas and the N-word being scrawled on school property to women’s hijabs ripped off in the street. Fearful patients wonder if they will have access to contraception or be able to keep their health insurance after January 20, 2017. These aren’t theoretical concerns; I’ve heard from friends and loved ones about both personal attacks and heightened anxieties in the wake of November 8.
Regardless of one’s political stance, it’s fair to say that the country is in a moment of extreme turmoil. We are poised on the brink of history, and every action – or lack thereof – feels of utmost importance. So what can we do to make this country safe for our patients, family, friends, and loved ones? Here’s how physicians can make a difference right now:
Reach out to your representatives. Specific asks might include the following:
– defend the rights of the diverse patients we serve, who are also their constituents
– publicly condemn the hate crimes that are occurring across the country, and push for such crimes to be prosecuted when they occur
– maintain the insurance coverage brought by the Affordable Care Act, and do not revoke our patients’ current access to health care and medications
– advocate for policies that will economically and socially strengthen all communities
– demand that our politicians use language that is inclusive, respectful of all communities, and promotes a culture of safety
– speak out against staff appointments to the new administration who are known to be racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic
– demand transparency about the finances and conflicts of interest of the president-elect and all his staff appointments
Recognize that for many people this election was more than a political statement. Some of us have substantive fears about our bodily safety and autonomy, with increasing evidence that these fears are valid. Many protestors are not marching simply because they are from a different political party; many are scared of being deported, attacked, imprisoned, denied health care, or killed. Let your colleagues and patients alike know that if they need to talk, you are there to listen. Then suspend your judgment and listen.
Donate to organizations that are working to protect our civil liberties, defend the rights of minorities, LGBTQ people, women, and undocumented families. Volunteer your time or resources to clinics that serve these communities. Financial support and the donation of time are important ways to be there for those who may feel marginalized right now. Don’t let the schism between diverse communities widen because of politics.
Engage with your friends and family members who may have opposing views. As we are so often taught in medicine, meet people where they are, listen to them, and share what you have experienced. Try to bridge the gaps along the way.
Those of us who know American history are horrified but not exactly surprised. But I also know that since becoming a physician I have met countless compassionate, caring, open-minded people from all walks of life who are selflessly committed to the health and well-being of others. You are probably one of them yourself. It’s this experience that gives me hope that together, we can make this country safe and healthy for everyone.
Note: All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.