Activism is a part of medicine and we cannot remain neutral

From a new attending and the former resident and fellow physician union president, congratulations on starting your residency! You’ve dedicated decades of your life to medicine, and your years of studying and extracurricular achievement have brought you to this moment.

As you are well aware, residency will be tough. You will likely work long hours while being exploited by your employer as cheap labor, but you’ll be expected to drink from a firehose of knowledge simultaneously. You may struggle at times, but you’ll learn and amaze yourself with the things you accomplish, and at some point, residency will end. You’re expected to make mistakes, and the system is built with redundancies, so they’re safe. At some point(s), perhaps much sooner than you’d think, you’ll be the one to make the catch or save someone’s life. Although others may try to denigrate you as “just an intern,” you earned that degree and are a “real doctor.”

As you may expect from a former union leader, I want to add a few words on activism.

For better or worse, we are living in unprecedented times. When a once-in-a-century pandemic started in the middle of my residency, we thought things couldn’t get more unprecedented, but the “historical” events kept occurring. Now, you are entering residency as yet another new “historical” era begins.

Nowadays, even scientific fact has been politicized. Even though many of us may wish to stay out of politics and stick to our “nobler” lane of medicine, the reality is even your clinical practice could be considered “picking  a side.” Do the right thing. If you’re up for it, advocate for what is right too — for your patients, colleagues, yourself, your family, or this country. You are the face of the future, and your MD/DO/MBBS makes you more qualified to shape it than the many voices using their platform to broadcast untruths.

If your program has a union, I highly encourage you to join it because your union will fight for fair working conditions, and strength lies in solidarity. The benefits you’ll receive from joining a union will far exceed the cost of dues. If you’re considering forming a union or becoming a union leader, that’s even better.

Regardless of your path, activism is becoming a part of medicine, and we cannot remain neutral.

So keep learning, take care of yourself and each other, and work toward making the world a better place.

Yuemei (Amy) Zhang is an anesthesiologist and can be reached on Twitter @yzhangmd1.

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