By Amanah Fatima, OMS-II, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences College of Osteopathic Medicine – Joplin Campus, National Recruitment Liaison, Omega Beta Iota: National Osteopathic Political Action Honor Society
When I was four years old, I remember telling my parents that when I grew up, I wanted to be a doctor. My mom was pregnant with my little brother and would bring me to her OB/GYN appointments. As a child, I thought the giant machine that showed the little baby in black and white pixels was the coolest thing, but I was even more awestruck by my mom’s young physician. In my eyes, she was a real-life Wonder Woman. Incredibly intelligent, strong, kind, and compassionate, I knew that I wanted to be like her when I was older.
Fast forward 14 years to when I was a young pre-med student at the University of Oklahoma, where I found an opportunity to volunteer at a free health clinic in Oklahoma City. It was at this clinic, in an old church near the Plaza district, that I first began to understand the impact of health disparities and social inequality in our country, and how it affects those without health insurance to an even greater degree. Most of the patients we saw were immigrants who knew little English. In between my questions to obtain history and vitals, they would relay to me in Spanish the struggles they faced—first in the countries they left, and then every day in this country they now called home. My heart went out to them in both sympathy and helpless frustration.
After matriculating into medical school, I have continued to make time to volunteer at a free health clinic, closer to home in Downtown Detroit. While the patient population has changed and some of the daily struggles I hear about are different, the end result remains the same. Some of our patients are homeless, many are the working poor; none of them can afford the health care they deserve.
My experiences volunteering at free health clinics have fueled my desire to work in an underserved area in the future and help care for patients whom our current system has failed. At the same time, I’m ever conscious of my growing debt. That is why I am a passionate advocate for protecting programs such as Grad PLUS and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. An AACOM survey found that seniors graduating in 2019 from osteopathic medical schools have an average debt of $256,562. As someone who has relied on both federal unsubsidized loans and the Grad PLUS program to help finance my medical education, my debt at the end of fourth year will be even greater. It is a common stereotype that people want to become physicians to “get rich,” but for students like me, who will graduate with debt equal to a nice house, it is not worth sinking into the financial hole, setting aside a decade of your life in training, and dealing with the stress of it all unless this is your dream, you genuinely care about the people you will help, and you cannot imagine doing anything else.
For me, I think of the Wonder Woman physician I met when I was four, the countless patients I have had the privilege of caring for through my time volunteering, my family who has supported me my whole life, and all of the energy and time I have put into pursuing a lifelong dream. To spend your life in the service of others is an honor and a privilege. It should not financially burden me, and so many others like me, as much as it has and likely will for a number of years. That is why I am a passionate advocate for protecting programs such as Grad PLUS and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. These programs allow many of us to be able to afford medical school, and then give us the opportunity to live our lives without being riddled with debt after 10 years of repaying what we can. The United States is expected to have a physician shortage nearing 122,000 by 2032. Our country needs physicians, and our legislators must help address that need by ensuring those who wish to pursue medicine can afford to do so. As osteopathic medical students, organizations such as AACOM and initiatives such as ED to MED help give us a voice, and I would encourage everyone to be proactive in advocating for legislation that affects us. We have strength in numbers, so reach out to your legislators, share your stories, participate in advocacy events, and let’s make a difference!
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by AACOM.