With 'Die-In,' UCSF Medical Students Urge Doctors To Fight Racism

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UCSF medical students Adali Martinez and Frederick Jamison at a "die-in" demonstration that called attention to the effect of racism on health care.

The din of excited chatter grew as the crush of UC San Francisco medical students put on their white coats and distributed picket signs saying “black lives matter" Wednesday, instructing one another to tag their Tweets and Instagram photos #WhiteCoats4BlackLives.

But at 10 minutes past noon, when the group laid down in unison in front of the medical school’s library on Parnassus Avenue, it was eerily silent. Many students closed their eyes. Some held hands. Passers-by stopped to watch and police officers lingered in the background.

More than 70 medical schools across the country held similar demonstrations. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)
More than 70 medical schools across the country held similar demonstrations. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

More than 100 medical students participated in the “die-in” at UCSF Medical Center, lying down as if dead just outside the doors to the hospital. They joined the wave of protests following the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York not to indict white police officers involved in killing unarmed black men. These students were emphasizing how racism affects health care.

“Our oath demands that we act not only as scientists, but as concerned citizens. We have to care about all the things that stand in [our patients’] way, including racism and violence,” said Nicolas Barceló, a fourth-year medical student and an organizer of the event.

Racial discrimination is a key factor in stress-related chronic health conditions like diabetes and hypertension, according to academic research, and contributes to mental health issues in minority communities.

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"We have to be able to sit down with a patient and recognize the factors in their lives that impact their overall health. And we know that racism and discrimination impacts the health of individuals and entire underserved communities," said Sidra Bonner, a medical student and an organizer of the event.

Kadia Wormley, a UCSF medical student, wears a black arm band in solidarity with the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The sign says "white coats 4 black lives."
Kadia Wormley, a UCSF medical student, wears a black arm band in solidarity with the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The sign says "white coats 4 black lives." (Jeremy Raff/KQED)"

Signs said “45 minutes for 4.5 hours” -- referencing the 45 minutes of silence for the 4½ hours  that Michael Brown lay in the street after being shot.

Barceló broke the silence, and read aloud the portion of the medical oath that students felt most applies to confronting racism as doctors:

“I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science. … I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings."