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Abolitionist Health Care

Abolitionist Health Care

Merriam-Webster’s definition of abolition, and pronunciation guide (Links to an external site.)

What does abolitionism in health care mean to you? How can you engage as an abolitionist in your future career as a health care professional?

This assignment was inspired by a book I read over the summer of 2020, Bettina L. Love’s We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. I read it in a book club with other faculty, with the intent of supporting each other to learn anti-racist teaching. The opportunity to discuss the topic with other faculty was important, although they all taught very different subjects from me. As I read the book I kept thinking, what are some things I can actually do in my own classroom? What can I add or change about how I’m teaching that would help make my classroom not only equitable, but actively anti-racist? And what anti-racist practices would be most useful for the particular group of students who take my course? Ultimately, I decided that the best step I could take is to do more to prepare students to:

  • be anti-racist in their own future health care practice
  • help create change in the existing health care system in which they will work, addressing bias based on race, gender, and other factors

But how?

I’ve been talking about bias in medicine in my classes for years, and in fall 2019, when I found a source that covers this deeply disturbing issue with humor, started giving an extra credit assignment on the topic – but that didn’t seem like enough. And, I’ve never worked clinically, so I don’t have the experience to suggest what my students can do in their health care careers. But each of you, having made a choice to go into the health care field, are potentially bringing your own experiences of having been marginalized based on your identity, and may have something more important to say about this topic than I ever could. I don’t know what the answer to this assignment is, but I know I am looking forward to reading what all of you have to say.

Below are some sources to help you get prepared for your first writing assignment. This is a really tough and painful topic to think about, and a very important one. Please take care of yourselves as you work through the material. You have five weeks over which to accomplish all the parts of the assignment, so there’s plenty of time if you need breaks from the topic.

Part 1: Preparing for Writing Assignment #1

This assignment will be approached in stages, culminating in a writing assignment. 

In your writing assignment, you don’t have to try and address everything in all these sources. Certain things may stand out to you personally, and those are the things you will likely write about. As you watch or read each piece, take a few notes to yourself on your thoughts and feelings. Once you have read/watched all the pieces, and participated in discussions, read through your notes and see if you can start putting together a picture that will allow you to answer the questions of the assignment.

Watch the Video

Let’s start with something that not only gets into the deeply horrifying nature of bias in medicine, but does it in a hilarious way. I know not everyone may share my sense of humor, but I think Wanda Sykes is objectively funny, and she certainly has an important story to tell. You may have watched this for an extra credit assignment if you’ve had a class with me before, or maybe you’ve seen it in another context. I recommend watching it again for this assignment.

Content Warning: 

  • Swears/Cussing (a LOT)
  • Frank discussion of sex and racial biases in medicine
  • A few jokes about sexual body functions

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Season 6 Ep 21 Aug 2019, 23 minute clip (Bias in Medicine):

Articles to Read

From www.thelancet.com Vol 396 July 18, 2020, 2 pages:

Abolition Medicine.pdf


From The Permanente Journal/ Spring 2012/ Volume 16 No. 2, 3 pages:

Health Care Professional as a Modern Abolitionist.pdf


From HHS Public Access, Lancet. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2020 June 02., about 4 pages to read (the rest of the 7 pages have citations):

A call for grounding implicit bias training in clinical and translational frameworks.pdf


Part 2: Discussion of Preparation Material

Discuss what you’ve read and seen with your study group, and with the whole class (Discussions are linked in this module). What did you find most interesting in the preparation materials? What parts do you think might apply to the career you intend to build? Do any of the preparation materials resonate with your personal story?

When you’ve had a chance to discuss with your fellow students in a smaller group, you may participate in the whole-class discussion as individuals OR elect someone from your group to add to the whole-class discussion.

Part 3: Writing the Assignment

  • What does abolitionism in health care mean to you? 
  • How can you engage as an abolitionist in your future career as a health care professional?

Write between one and three pages (about 500-1500 words), addressing the questions above. This is based on your opinion, so there are no absolute right or wrong answers. I will grade your work based on how clearly you express your opinions. If, after using the sources provided, you still aren’t sure what to answer, you can write about that in your assignment. What is it you are unsure about? What do you think you might do to become more clear about this topic in the future?

Please type out your assignment in the program of your choice, and save as a pdf to upload in Canvas.

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