Letter from J. Bonsu

Dear Friend,

 

I lost. I lost. I lost. I lost. I lost. I won.

 

I ran for five student government elections before I was ever successful. Who would have ever told me: “Sixth time is the charm?” My student government experience that has shaped my life so much could have been taken away from me if I didn’t have the perfect balance of stubbornness and unrelenting support of friends and family. I went from a girl unable to win a student council election since freshman year of high school to the President of the Student Government Association at Johns Hopkins University.

There is an onus on all of us to share our complete story and not just the Facebook highlights because the journey matters. In its entirety, my story is not a story about success or failure, but it is a story about resiliency. This is a common path I recognized in my own brother, as he went from being cut from his high school basketball team to a walk on player on his Division 1 college team. Resiliency is a lesson only learned through failures.

As I look ahead to my next four years, I am mixed with emotions. This May, I will earn my Masters of Public Health and, in four years, I will earn my medical degree from The Ohio State University. I have traveled a long way to get here. Yes, I was that young child who proclaimed that she wanted to be a doctor. But, after spending a semester touring prospective medical schools and explaining why I chose medicine, I came to the realization that I did not have a single defining moment at all – I have a lifetime of culminating moments. Each time I push forward in the face of adversity, inequality, and failure I look forward to having more of these moments.

From time spent growing up in Ghana to living the American-immigrant reality, the issues of public health and health care have grown to be my driving passion. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “public health,” it’s okay. Even scholars in the field have a hard time offering a single definition. The concept of public health is always shifting to adjust to the needs of a shifting population. For me, public health is a holistic approach to improving society’s health by addressing certain factors – such as poverty, discrimination, and education – that can lead to poor health outcomes.

Public health often focuses on historically underserved populations who tend to have a greater proportion of negative health outcomes due to past injustices. Public health rests on equity, not equality. This means that in the course of action, we must act proportionally – giving more to those who have less so that we can all achieve a basic standard of health. In that way, public health is not only the field of health surveillance and prevention, but it is also a means of advocacy to create healthy communities for everyone.

I am among those who simply believe that everyone should have basic access to primary and preventative care, irrespective of their capacity to pay. I didn’t realize how radical this thought was until recently. Critical issues of care have been tossed behind Blue and Red dividers. Our American health care system drips of capitalism and is steeped in politics. This shouldn’t be the case. Health care is a human right, which should never be subjected to political fights. The involvement of policy should be to establish an equitable and foundational level of primary and preventative health care services.

My public health training in qualitative research methods has prepared me for a future of grassroots activism and community engagement. Over the years, I have learned to make connections and talk to people of different beliefs and backgrounds. I have learned to speak to people without putting them on the defensive and to treat them with dignity, respect, and understanding.

The call for action, especially in these next four years, demands more from all of us. If you are like me and are a future physician, it is imperative that we do more to address the environment that our patients live, work, play, and get sick in. It is necessary for us to connect our medical schools with the broader campus and community. I hope to run again for student council (yes, I’m not done) and work with my colleagues to outline priorities for health and health education in our community. As a collective group of students from all backgrounds and walks, we can work to remove the partisan divide over health care. But it will take more than statements; we must follow our words in action.

You will find me these next four years in the classroom learning how to become a doctor, but most importantly, you will also find me organizing with other students to phone bank and volunteer on campaigns for politicians who stand for the issues that we stand for. Rather than blindly follow our party affiliations, the Hippocratic oath - the promise to treat the patient, not the disease, and to do no harm - will guide us. We will actively draft memos to our representatives on our experiences treating patients in need and on the health issues affecting our community, our state, and our nation.

Odds are that at this precise moment, you may not know what you want to do, but it is likely that you know the type of person you want to be. Demonstrate that. Our schools cannot shield us from the realities occurring outside the collegiate walls. As future health professionals, we do not have the luxury to overlook the exertion of politics on medical rights. If society refuses to depoliticize the issue of health care, we have no choice but to enter the political arena. Even as a student. Especially, as a student.

 

Yours in the pursuit for more,

Janice