Rewind to two years ago: Summer 2014. “So, what did you think about the Supreme Court ruling this morning?” I ask in my biochemistry discussion. I’ve spent the past hour raging to my friend, a recent poli-sci graduate, via text.
Pin drop silence. People are confused: what was the ruling? I explain the Hobby Lobby decision. Most don’t seem to care: for now, the structure of the nucleotides will do. Everyone goes back to talking about the World Cup as I try not to throw a desk across the room.
This isn’t anything new. I’ve broached political topics to my biological-science-major friends, only for them to transform into deer in headlights. Yet, the fury on my end doesn’t fade away. When hearing the Hobby Lobby ruling, I am angry that someone would equate Plan B to an abortion pill. After spending hours in classes that outlined chemical pathways of the reproductive system, I can barely stand that such scientific inaccuracy was swallowed by judges, even in the highest court of the land. But here I am, in a room with the future doctors of the United States, and Brazil’s soccer team is a greater concern to everyone than reproductive healthcare.
Now I’m in quite a different scene: I’m living with thirty other UC Berkeley students and interning at the Mental Health Association. Sacramento was an intellectual shift for me. For starters, everyone at the Capitol Mall reads the news. Sure they might not understand the difference between alpha-helix and beta-sheet secondary protein structures, but they definitely don’t ditch the polls in June and November. Everyone in my cohort has an opinion on topics ranging from education to environmental legislation. Within my organization, people are watching key legislation that merely changes a few words in Medi-Cal yet can have a fiscal impact of millions of dollars. Once a month, organizations ranging from hospital associations to advocacy groups sit down and discuss policy recommendations, including amendments to existing bills. Discussion remains energizing and fast-moving, especially when field-overlap occurs: how does mental health tie into K-12 education? Where can we do better within psychiatric care in the criminal justice system? How do we address the coefficient of homelessness in mental illness?
The downside to all of this? Only one other person in my political-nerd cohort had taken biochemistry.
It is inconceivable to me that individuals can rationalize entering healthcare without knowing the dynamics of the field; it’s the equivalent of taking a flight without packing. I still struggle to articulate my frustration without using expletives. Political apathy is what adds to the problem: it’s why lawmakers can write off tuition hikes, it’s why my high school demographics have flipped, and it could be how Donald Drumpf gets elected in November. Everyone got a taster of this when Benjamin Carson was running: he separated Siamese twins, got into one of the top medical schools, became an accomplished neurosurgeon, yet still managed to confuse Hamas and hummus. He received the mainstream media spotlight (and the mean tweets), but he’s definitely not the first doctor to fumble–and at this rate, he won’t be the last.
AMCAS tried to flip this around by adding Psychology and Sociology to the MCAT. Yet, we the pre-meds have found our way to best this by memorizing all the sociological terms and occasionally picking C as a last resort on multiple choice. Anyone can pick which political labels to identify with, but the bottom line is this: our government wasn’t structured to accommodate civic disengagement. There is a significant difference between not being able to afford time off on November 8 versus binging Game of Thrones instead of sending in a mail-in ballot.
If the recent legislative decisions regarding the Zika virus wasn’t a sign that pre-meds need to speak out, then the ongoing anti-vaccination movement should be. Voter disenfranchisement hasn’t disappeared–it’s only changed its shape; your vote is representing more than you might think. A biology class isn’t a requirement for filing for candidacy, but it is a necessary prerequisite for addressing healthcare. And that is where we come in.