At a moment when the constitutional recognition and protection of a person’s right to abortion care has been significantly weakened by the recent US Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Texas abortion ban (SB 8) to go into effect, we in AMSA stand resolute and ready to fight for not just the preservation but also the expansion and advancement of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice.
AMSA has long recognized the critical importance of, and has advocated for, unrestricted and equitable access to whole-person (full spectrum) sexual and reproductive healthcare, including abortion care, for women and all people. When barriers due to structural racism, economic marginalization, and patriarchal laws and policies – such as the Texas law – effectively prevent a pregnant person from exercising their human right to have an abortion, they have experienced reproductive injustice.
Unfortunately, the medical profession in the US has been and continues to be deeply complicit in the perpetuation of reproductive injustices, going all the way back to the late 1850s when the fledgling American Medical Association (AMA) began lobying states to make abortion illegal. (Historians now recognize this largely successful campaign as a resolutely anti-feminist reaction to women advocating for admission to medical schools and a power-grab by physicians who wanted to take the business of pregnancy and delivery care away from midwives, doulas, and homeopaths.) While the AMA’s current policy is now supportive of abortion care, the impact of over 150 years of white male chauvinism, heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, misogyny and anti-abortion propaganda within the US medical profession must be accounted for and nothing less than the transformation of the culture of medicine must be pursued.
AMSA’s Reproductive Health Project contributes to the vision and goals of Reproductive Justice by supporting the professional growth and ethical development of future abortion care providers, with a focus on cultivating perspectives and ethics in medical students which are informed by the principles and political commitments of Reproductive Justice.
One of the initiatives of our Reproductive Health Project is a new kind of mentoring program for medical students who are considering clinical practices that encompass family planning and abortion care. Based on the construct of “sprints” each 4-week program supports mentoring pairs who come together once per week for a total of four conversations. Our goal is to plant a lot of seeds for new relationships that can get started during the Mentorship Sprint, and which may continue to grow and mature beyond the initial four weeks.
In anticipation of the next round of AMSA’s Reproductive Health Mentorship Sprint – apply by October 1, 2021 for the next sprint, mid-October to mid-November! – we thought we’d share a few narratives from medical students who have recently participated in the Mentorship Sprints. The reflections included in this short series of blog posts were written by student mentees, co-created in conversation with their mentors. The first of these narratives has been submitted by Shereen Jeyakumar, a fourth year medical student attending Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.
Speaking Freely: How Mentorship in Abortion Care Has Impacted Me
As a medical student and an aspiring ObGyn, education on abortion and family planning is hard to come by and unfortunately lacking in our traditional curriculum. Even if we have a didactic or ethics lecture on the topic, hands-on or clinical training is scarce. It’s similarly difficult to find mentors that share your beliefs and can provide you with shadowing opportunities, especially in certain parts of the country. I’ve had to seek out experiences in reproductive health and family planning myself, outside my traditional curriculum, to fulfill my educational needs and personal interests.
Through a connection with AMSA, I’m incredibly grateful I was involved with the Reproductive Health Mentorship Sprint. I was connected with Dr. Amna Dermish, an ObGyn at Planned Parenthood in Austin, Texas. For once, I had found a mentor that could provide me with personal experience about the realities of being an abortion and family planning provider. Over my four weeks with Dr. Dermish, she taught me through stories and anecdotes of how rewarding it is to comfort and treat patients through a vulnerable, stigmatized time like an unplanned pregnancy. Her words have colored my career interests, and I know I want to be there for my future patients in a similar fashion.
Dr. Dermish not only shared her stories about the unique difficulty and meaningfulness of practicing as an abortion provider in a largely conservative state, but also advised me on choosing an ObGyn residency that provides family planning training. She spoke to me about work-life balance, advocacy, and advice on my own ObGyn rotation as a third-year medical student. I’m grateful for all her insight, as this is the first opportunity I’ve had to speak freely with a mentor that followed the family planning path of ObGyn that I’m interested in.
As a medical student, Dr. Dermish explained to me that she started the Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) chapter at her medical school, which began her journey in eventually becoming an abortion provider. I was inspired; I found out that my own medical school didn’t currently have a MSFC chapter on campus, so I’m now in the process of starting one. I already have great support from my faculty and fellow classmates—I hope to provide educational events on abortion and family planning at my medical school to fill that gap in our curriculum for all students that are interested.
Through working with Dr. Dermish, I learned about what it means to be an abortion provider—and even beyond that, I’ve started to make efforts on my own medical school campus to make abortion training more accessible for my classmates. I’m incredibly grateful to AMSA for setting up this mentorship program, as I’ve benefited immensely from my connection with Dr. Dermish. I’m planning for my first MSFC event on campus to bring a speaker panel of abortion and family planning providers, with Dr. Dermish included. I hope this program continues so that as a future ObGyn, I can return as a mentor and inspire another medical student to find their career path and make a positive change in their school’s environment.
-Written by Shereen Jeyakumar, AMSA Member at Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine