"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, its the only thing that ever has."
— Margaret Mead
The mission of Beyond the Books is to prepare medical students to become competent, compassionate health care providers to underserved populations and agents for the advancement of health equity within the United States.
The United States exhibits some of the most profound health disparities in the developed world. From infant mortality to diabetes, traditionally underserved communities within our nation experience disproportionate rates of morbidity and mortality across a spectrum of disease. This striking health disparity is the result of social rather than biologic pathology. There is nothing intrinsically maladaptive about being African-American or having a low income. Rather, these two groups experience worse health outcomes because elements present within our society make economic disadvantage and minority status unhealthy. Health disparity is a product of social injustice and a legacy of oppression. There is nothing natural or inevitable about it. Just as inequity can be reinforced through traditions of disenfranchisement and systemic racism, it can also be progressively dismantled through the conscious effort of dedicated and compassionate individuals.
As future physicians, the unacceptable health disparity within the United States must be our concern. However, before we can work to address this issue we must first strive to understand it. Beyond the Books seeks to foster a deep understanding of the challenges associated with socioeconomic disadvantage by providing medical students with the opportunity to form a relationship with an individual working to overcome this hardship. This understanding will, in turn, provide a space for students to dismantle false preconceptions and develop empathy and compassion for individuals who were dealt a less favorable hand in life. The didactic, classroom-based component of the program will equip students with a working knowledge of health disparity in the United States along with the major factors which perpetuate it - systemic racism, stigma, and toxic social, environmental and economic determinants of health.
In the effort to abolish health disparity, our hope increasingly rests on the actions of individuals dedicated to improving the well-being of underserved communities within the United States. As evidenced by the work of Dr. Barry Zuckerman, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center who addressed high rates of childhood asthma by working to improve substandard housing conditions, physicians attentive to the needs of their community can make a profound difference. It is our hope that through Beyond the Books students will be equipped with the knowledge and compassion to intervene similarly on behalf of the populations that need it most.