navigating social justice oriented spaces 

in anticipation for the launch of hearts of healers i wanted to write a bit about how i, personally, navigate social justice oriented spaces. i know this can be daunting for folks who are just beginning to enter these spaces – it certainly was for me. i was afraid of saying the wrong thing or often just avoided going altogether because i didn’t want to seem ignorant but that is definitely not the move! many of us live on the intersection of many oppressions and being in these spaces can help us articulate why said systems are oppressive while also understanding how we may be complicit to the oppression of others. it’s daunting, i know, but i hope that some of my tips below will help empower you to lean into the discomfort and show up to do the work.

remember, none of us are free until all of us are free.

  • if i’m part of the privileged group (ex: being a cisgender person and trans & rights of gender nonconforming folks are raised) i, especially at first, simply listen. i try to set my ego aside and recognize that i have a lot to learn.
  • i recognize that usually the oppressed group ends up doing a lot of the emotional and intellectual labor and that this must be incredibly exhausting. i try to recall the moments it was on me to educate folks and how exhausted i was at the end of it all. i try to hold onto that empathy when i have the urge to tone police and resist doing so.
  • if i’m feeling uncomfortable, i try to grapple with why exactly that is. is it because i feel disrespected? or rather because i’m being challenged and forced to grapple with the face that i, too, hold problematic views?
  • if i have a question, i first try to google so as not to add to the labor folks are already doing
  • when i’m part of the oppressed group (ex: conversations on WOC, islam and the bigotry surrounding it, etc.) i try to share the labor of educating. i do my best to be kind about calling in/out and try to encourage folks to do the same but also recognize that it is not easy to always be polite when i’m explaining why i deserve respect, safety and sometimes to simply exist.

of course, no one has to agree/follow this. simply sharing what works for me at the moment in case others are looking for some guidance. i’m sure this will continue to change throughout my life cause this learning is lifelong!

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[image description: dr. angela davis speaking at first corinthian baptist church in harlem, new york city]

how do you navigate being in social justice oriented spaces – both in person and online? what has worked for you? what hasn’t?

back into focus 

as i shared in my last post, i’d unknowingly hit ‘pause’ on my life and my dreams these past couple years once a measly little exam seemingly took over my life but i’m back now reclaiming my time and my joy.

in that process i’ve made a few pretty big decisions about my future and just wanted to share with you all. thank you for your company on this journey. i used to constantly be in awe – and still am – of folks in the arts or humanities or really anything that didn’t have a set multistep plan for their careers. i used to find so much comfort in being a traditional applicant to medical school – straight out of college, no decisions to make about what to do with years off, etc. but the older i get the more i realize that no one’s life path goes in a linear fashion. we all face expected and unexpected challenges and have to roll with the punches. here’s how i’m choosing to roll with mine:

i’m going to be a psychiatrist when i grow up! i’m guessing that this does not come as a surprise to most of you. pretty sure most people knew this was where i was destined to be before i was able to fully embrace it myself. there were many things that fueled my uncertainty but most of them boiled down to giving too many effs about what other people think.once i set all that aside – worrying about ‘hanging up my stethoscope’ and not being considered a ‘real doctor’ (what does this even mean?? i’m in medical school, which contrary to the belief of people who continue to ask me if i’m going to be a nurse when i tell them that, i’m going to be a doctor!!), stigma against mental illness and providers in communities at large and within my family of origin, folks assuming that i’m only going into it to have a good lifestyle (anyone who knows me this is probably at the bottom of the list of reasons – and anyway what’s wrong with wanting balance in my life??) – i realized that by caring about what others thought i was simply holding my own happiness and passion hostage.

i came into medicine because of my passions for social justice and mental health and i can think of no better way to execute my dreams than by being a psychiatrist. i love getting to know my patients. i’m good at it.

of course i still have concerns – am i risking my own mental health? will my empath self be able to hold down the boundaries necessary to function in my own life without absorbing the struggles of others? will i regret missing the opportunity to be the patient’s first line and home base as their primary care doctor?

but there’s an underlying peace that i’ve found from leaning into this. into what feels right for me and what’s brought joy in some of the darkest days these past few years. into what i’ve always envisioned for my life.

i’m moving to NYC! i’ll be at columbia this upcoming year obtaining my MPH. my struggles with USMLE greatly robbed me of my passion for medicine. it often left no time or energy to explore my activism and advocacy. getting an MPH was always a part of my life plan but it’s something i’ve decided to pursue now (rather than later) in an effort to rekindle the flame and remind myself of my goals for my life, beyond passing an exam. i still have no idea where i’ll be living or how i’m going to balance moving several times this summer while taking shelf exams and OSCEs and step two. but for the first time in a long time, i’m truly excited about the future and it feels so damn good.

i only have a few more weeks of core rotations remaining in third year and i’m so happy and proud that i chose to advocate for myself to start rotations before retaking step one. i’m not exaggerating when i say that decision probably saved my life. in the past year i’ve learned so much about myself and the physician i aspire to be. i’m so excited to continue to move forward in my career and this life i’m building. grateful for your company through it all.

why i march


It’s been a few months since Donald Trump won the election and yesterday he was inaugurated. And as I type that, my heart is aching and there’s a pit in my stomach. Because my brain cannot comprehend how, setting aside politics, we can go to a first family that was the epitome of class to this person whose entire campaign seemed to rest on hatred. So yesterday, I allowed myself to mourn but today I’m getting to work. I’m going to stay woke and aware because that’s how a democracy works. It’s my responsibility to make sure the rights of my sisters and brothers are not taken away. And I’m starting by participating in the local sister march to the Women’s March on Washington. While I think it’s wonderful that people are traveling from all over the world you be in DC, there’s something about marching with my own community that feels so right. Alongside my sisters, my future patients, elders from my masjid, professors at local schools, organizers from this very community. I can’t imagine a better way to state my intentions for the next four years.

I’m marching because my parents came to this country in search of the American dream – to build a better life for their family and have instead been faced with hatred towards their faith despite all the good they’ve done as citizens. Because religious freedom is integral to this nation being a just democracy.

I’m marching because, one day, I want to raise a family in world I believe in. When future generations ask what part I played in this reality, I want to be able to answer with pride.

I’m marching for my future patients – to ensure they all have equal access to superb health care. Because I believe in a woman’s right to choose. Because we need major revamping in the way we train our physicians. Because the lack of access to mental healthcare in this country is truly horrific.

I’m marching for clean, renewable energy. For immigration reform. For affordable education. For racial justice. For gun control. For livable wages. For universal access to basic necessities like clean water. For paid family leave.

To stand with our sisters and brothers fighting against police brutality and with those protecting their native lands, Standing Rock and all across the country. To ensure the citizens of the world know that I see them. I hear them. I will do my part to protect them from irresponsible wars pursued in the interest of a powerful few.

As citizens of a democracy, it’s our responsibility to stay aware and provide continuous feedback to our representatives. It’s our responsibility to ensure they uphold the values of justice, compassion, love and to get loud when they don’t. We have to continue to show up, even when it’s inconvenient. Especially then. This is just the beginning. Let us rise.

 

 

reflection: prison education project

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During my first year in medical school, I picked up The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander in an effort to get a better understanding about the prison system in the United States. While I had heard about the astronomically high rates of incarceration, I wanted to understand why things were the way they were. In the first chapter ‘The Rebirth of Caste,’ Alexander introduces the idea that the prison system is used as a legal and ‘politically correct’ means of slavery after emancipation of slaves. Under this system, law enforcement agencies are almost universally protected, regardless of their actions, and seemingly arbitrary (and often racist) mandatory minimum sentences exist for petty crimes. Throughout the text, Alexander also discussed the high recidivism rates within the prison system. She details many barriers that prevent inmates from reintegrating into society after returning to the free world including restricted access to employment and housing and severe parole policies.

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not again, not again (and again) 

Today was supposed to be a good day.

I woke up around 8 and that felt too early. Anything before ten these days feels ‘too early’ but then I remembered that I was late to clinical skills last session and so I got myself out of bed – I thought ‘it’s okay, I can sleep in tomorrow.’

I got dressed, warmed up my coffee and woke up hubs so I could get a ride to campus. Today we were doing a male genitourinary exam and digital rectal exam. Most practicing physicians have probably done hundreds of these exams but being a medical student, I obviously felt nervous. I also felt really grateful to the standardized patients who allow us access to their bodies so that we can learn to be better healers for our future patients, who allow us to perform exams that most would shy away from even when there is something wrong.

The majority of the first year of medical school, you learn about how humans work. You learn about the various mechanisms that allow our tickers to tick, our liver to flush out toxins, how the brain controls so many of those mechanisms. And once you feel like you’re finally getting a grasp on how we work, you get to second year and learn all the ways that we don’t. You learn about the pathology of each organ system and you start to wonder… how are any of us still alive and functioning? Life and living start feeling miraculous. And other than the bouts of ‘med student syndrome,’ (where we start thinking we have any disease we’re studying at the time) you really start to appreciate good health more than you ever have.

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rights are rights

“The idea that some lives matter more than others is the root of all that is wrong with this world.”
– Dr. Paul Farmer

This past Sunday, I attended a training for the Prison Education Program at Cal Poly Pomona. The program is led by the amazing Dr. Renford Reese. After reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and learning about the realities of the prison system in this country, I knew I needed to find a way to help. PEP aims to reduce recidivism rates in prisons by providing inmates with guidance and resources to pursue their goals after leaving prison.

At the training we, of course, discussed the logistics of the program, safety precautions, etc. But my favorite part of the training was when Dr. Reese brought up this idea of umbuntu. Umbuntu is the South African philosophy of ‘humanness’ and is ‘the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.’ Many of the struggles people face daily are structural and money needs to be used to create infrastructure to combat these injustices, but as Dr. Reese said during our training ‘Words are free. And if we believe that words have the power to hurt people, we must also believe that words can heal.’ And that’s what PEP is all about – creating a sense of umbuntu and recognizing that if anyone in our community is hurting, we are all hurting and we must actually do something to help.

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faith and medicine, not a contradiction


I’ve been pretty open about my faith on this blog and while I don’t owe anyone any sort of explanation, I do realize that science and faith aren’t often seen on the same side of the equation. And while I respect peoples’ right to believe whatever they choose to believe, I thought I’d take a shot at explaining why my faith is so important to me and how it got to be that way.

“The wound is the place the Light enters you.” – Rumi

As many stories of ‘finding yourself’ begin, mine also starts at when I was lost and in a state of extreme despair. I grew up in a practicing Muslim family. My parents moved to the U.S. from Pakistan, where the official religion of the country is Islam. The vast majority of the people my parents grew up with were all Muslim. They never questioned Islam as a way of life because it’s all they ever knew. It was ingrained into every fiber of their being.

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