White Coat, Clenched Fist

“From the age of three, I wanted to be a writer. My grandfather, Seamus McManus was an Irish storyteller, poet, novelist and historian. He was enormously prolific. For me, writing is usually an add-on to a daytime job. Few of us can make a living as a writer, artist, or musician, but I’m a firm believer in the importance of creativity in life. So I scribble in the early mornings, late evenings and weekends,” he told CIR leaders.

Originally published in 1976 (reissued January ’07), “White Coat, Clenched Fist” charts the development of an activist physician from his first year of medical school, to his life-altering immersion in the Civil Rights Movement, and an activist residency which included serving as CIR President, organizing a resident’s strike, and co-founding the Lincoln Collective in the South Bronx, a resident-driven training program.

Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan went on to publish other books and numerous articles, served as assistant Surgeon General, was a pediatrician at a community health center in DC, and a professor of Pediatrics and Public Policy at George Washington University. He was on both sides of the great medical divide, as a physician, and as a patient, enduring a two-year bout with cancer at age 32. He coined the terms “survivor”and “survivorship” to define what he went though, and help others facing that test. He makes an impassioned case for equity in healthcare and the importance of primary care as opposed to the highly fragmented care our system is evolving towards, and has devoted a large part of his career to public service.

His book White Coat, Clenched Fist grabs the reader with its immediacy and deeply felt descriptions. Dr. Mullan’s professional life had been devoted to finding ways to bring a sense of shared compassion and mission to the field of medicine, remaking it in the process into a more humane system in all senses of the word.

“Health equity at home and abroad is the principle that unifies my work,” he said.

A pediatrician whose far-reaching career has included clinical, administrative and editorial responsibilities in both the public and the private sector, Dr. Mullan was also cognizant of the importance of communicating with both lay and professional audiences.

His message to residents today: “Residents can be commentators and reformers in whatever system they’re in, whether it’s macro– the world –or local, their hospital. You have clinical standing to raise issues of inequity and reform. And I would urge each resident to raise these issues – the healthiest profession is that which engages in constant improvement. I would encourage young doctors and residents to consider themselves agents of change to make the system better, fairer and more efficient. CIR has a long history of raising issues that need reform, and effecting change and improvements through collective bargaining.CIR becomes a bulwark for monitoring and commenting on the hospitals, and health care in the community.”