On January 21, Dr. Jerica Johnson, a resident in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UNMH, joined an estimated 6,000 people in the Women’s March Albuquerque, New Mexico. She reflects on her experience below:
We were huddling close on a soggy grass plot in Civic Plaza on January 21, the day of the Women’s March. The morning initially had been quite warm (for a winter month in New Mexico), but a hailstorm had materialized out of seemingly nothing. It was still sunny, without a cloud above us, when we felt the first small pellet of ice. The bizarre weather in Albuquerque that day seemed to mirror the feelings I was having regarding the looming bizarre changes at our country’s doorstep. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, blockade of refugee families, and decreased access to resources for women’s health were the topics of anxiety-provoking conversation as we were assailed by the elements, standing together in the immense crowd.
The bizarre weather in Albuquerque that day seemed to mirror the feelings I was having regarding the looming bizarre changes at our country’s doorstep. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act, blockade of refugee families, and decreased access to resources for women’s health were the topics of anxiety-provoking conversation as we were assailed by the elements, standing together in the immense crowd.
We assembled there as a group of physicians, and along with friends and loved ones, we held up signs declaring our support of the right to healthcare, justice, and peace. For me, the Women’s March was an opportunity to practice my deep belief in women’s rights and every person’s right to free speech. For some of my colleagues, it was a chance to demonstrate their backing of the increased access to healthcare that the Affordable Care Act had furnished. For others, it was space to show the world that they do not condone misogyny, homophobia, racism, or xenophobia. Overall, the women’s March was really about one thing: caring.
This is the reason why many healthcare providers were so enthusiastic to participate in the Women’s March. As providers, we are all about caring. We care enough to help you navigate the ups and downs of your pregnancy. We care enough to be there to deliver your child. We care enough to fix a broken arm after that same child falls off the monkey bars. We care enough to provide you with birth control after you decide that you’re not ready for another child to fall off the monkey bars. We care enough to give you life-saving medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. We care enough to be your emotional support when you suffer the loss of a family member. And yes, as your doctors, we care enough about you to stand up for your right to healthcare.
But why would physicians want to get involved in the political happenings of their communities? Shouldn’t we stay in our hospitals, clinics, and operating rooms? Well, according to the Hippocratic Oath, which is taken by physicians across the country, doctors must take action for the “benefit of the sick according to [their] ability and judgment… to keep them from harm and injustice.”1
The possibility of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a direct “harm and injustice” to our patients. After the ACA was passed in 2014, Medicaid expansions were associated with a relative reduction of mortality by 6.1%.2 If we estimate that 20 million Americans could lose their healthcare coverage due to a repeal of the ACA, then we can expect that there will be an additional 43,956 deaths each year.3
The loss of access to healthcare could have devastating effects for individuals and families. I see firsthand the extreme physical, emotional, and financial costs to both patients and hospitals when someone is admitted to the hospital for a medical problem that could have been managed sooner, at a more treatable stage, in a primary care clinic. Expensive hospitalizations for the consequences of unmanaged chronic diseases could become even more of the norm in our healthcare systems if patients’ insurance is taken away.
As healthcare providers, we have a duty to serve “the people.” We have a commitment to our patients and to their families to fight for their right to have their basic health needs met. Because of this, I see engagement in our shifting political landscape as an obligation and a privilege. This is why I march, and this is why I care.
- Translation from the Greek by Ludwig Edelstein. From The Hippocratic Oath: Text, Translation, and Interpretation, by Ludwig Edelstein. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1943.
- BD Sommers, K Baicker, AM Epstein. Mortality and access to care among adults after state Medicaid expansions. N Engl J Med. 2012;367(11):1025–1034.
- D Himmelstein, S Woolhandler. “Repealing Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually.” Washington Post. Jan 23 2017. www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/23/repealing-the-affordable-care-act-will-kill-more-than-43000-people-annually/?utm_term=.e369215e767b