Medical student privilege

Adapted from a post I wrote as a medical student:

Privilege creeps through every aspect of our lives. Our interests, work, political beliefs and identity are tangled up in privilege, or lack thereof. I think that white privilege is one of the most well-studied and accessible facets of privilege; Peggy McIntosh’s classic essay on the “invisible knapsack” is sobering and definitely a reflection of its time, and this Thought Catalog essay on white history months rings true with the way race is portrayed in American media. An interesting blog post from the Feminist Midwife I found on “pregnancy privilege” just goes to show that even assumptions about happy pregnant women are influenced by privileged groups.

If we don’t talk about privilege, we will never be aware of it. If we’re not aware of it, we will never have the motivation or understanding to fix it. What really matters is that we are aware of how privilege or lack thereof has made our world what it is, so that we can work to solve the problems that privileged attitude, behavior, and policy have created.

So. I know that I have a certain degree of privilege, no pun intended, because I’m a medical student. Hold up, you say. “Privileged,” as a medical student? We’re at the bottom of the totem pole, the minnow in the hospital food chain. But as future healthcare providers, we still have a lot of leverage. What is my “privilege list” as a medical student?

  1. I’m at a point in training where I can assist in procedures without fear of ultimate responsibility/malpractice suits.
    2. In the future, it’ll be easy for me to refer my family members/friends to my colleagues and get them into the medical system if they need care.
    3. It is easier to get a student loan because of my educational background.
    4. I’m not expected to have another job to support my education (#1, because it’s impossible for me find a job that would pay for $50,000 of education a year, #2, because I’m “going to be a DOCTOR,” cue admiring voices).
    5. I get a lot of free food while being educated. Community leaders have taken me out to lunch and invited me to conferences (say, at the White House) because I have a medical perspective. Of course, I always promise to give them free annual exams for life.
    6. I hobnob with incredibly talented, smart people who more often than not went to school with governors’ children, have won athletic medals, have yachts, used to have TV shows, etc. (Although there are plenty of med students who don’t have those things, including me!)
    7. I get access to medical records, chronicles of some of the most terrifying and embarrassing moments in people’s lives, just because I need to learn.
    8. I’m expected to take time off for R+R so that I don’t “burn out.”
    9. Telling people I’m a medical student at cocktail parties and such gets me a lot of respect, even though I look like a kid playing dress-up.
    10. People in the hospital treat me with respect because of the white coat (even if it is shorter than a resident’s), say hello to me in the halls, or thank me for “my service.”

That’s all I can think of for now. I encourage you to make your own list! And remember: be honest, be real, and broaden your understanding of yourself and your community. Peace.


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2 Responses to Medical student privilege

  1. No-hoper says:

    This is a really interesting post; the more equality of opportunity there is in a society, the more cohesive it’ll be; but a meritocracy is a good thing – some people will succeed more – not everyone is equal in aptitude.

    Doctors being respected for the hours and hours of difficult and highly skilled work they do, and often being recognised as community leaders, is no bad thing.

    The popularisation of the term ‘privilege’ has brought problems; namely that specifics attitudes and treatment of specifics groups of people (ie my point above about recognition of doctors) are sometimes now thought of as intrinsically bad, and this is not necessarily the case. Secondly, sometimes people are told to ‘check your privilege’ and retract their comment, and most of the time this is a silly ad hominem thing to say; when a statement is objectively true or false it doesn’t matter what the background of the person who said it is.

  2. samfilea says:

    Interesting read, maybe it’s time for me to write a list of my own!

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