“The healthcare system is broken”. You’ll hear that sentence uttered by both those delivering care and those on the receiving end of it. The reasons behind the dissatisfaction with the way the healthcare system functions are manifold – but let’s zero in on one: the difference in treatment between men and women. Women are twice as likely as men to say they have had health concerns dismissed by a GP.
And the reasons for this are manifold. There is a lack of funding for research surrounding female-specific diseases or mechanisms of action. How can we expect doctors to incorporate gender differences into the treatment of their patients when there is a fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding in how women and men present differently? Because the way men present for certain diseases is still the norm in medical textbooks and even in anatomy class.
But if medical education is a part of a problem, than it must also be a crucial and vital part of the solution. After all, it was Hippocrates who said, “Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity. ” The practice of medicine at its core is fuelled by a desire to help others – and in no one is that desire most pure than in medical students and those who teach it.
Medical students are the most open to changing the way things are done, the ones most prone to question why things are done the way they are. They are the ones most poised to remember what it is to be a patient but are also just beginning to engage with the medical system in a real and meaningful way.
It’s during medical school that future doctors are confronted with what is wrong with our medical system from the perspective of those who are sometimes forced to perpetuate it – and so it also makes most sense for them to be offered the opportunity to change what they view as being wrong with the system. Instead of either becoming progressively disillusioned about the way things are done (and quitting) or becoming progressively entrenched in the system.
Let’s put it this way: it is not uncommon for a medical student to talk about what they learnt about in a reproduction module surrounding the way contraceptives are prescribed and reflect on their own experiences in the same breath. They remember their unsatisfactory experience, the way themselves were dismissed. This dual reality of being both patient and future provider is a unique perspective that should be used to the benefit of the medical system we have today.
Medical students understand the foreign-ness of medical terms being doled out to patients, because it is only shortly before that the terms themselves were foreign to them. Medical students also understand the frustration doctors face trying to extract information from patients. As medical students they themselves must embark on the challenge of piecing together meaningful clues from the information the patient provides.
Innovation should be a priority in medical schools, embedded into curricula, because it is the curriculum in medical schools that lay the fundament for our medical knowledge, that sow seeds for what is worth pursuing – that inspire students to understand for example that the lack of seamless integration of differences in gender into evidence-based medicine is a fundamental problem.