I wear a great many hats. One of them sports the logo of the BMJ; I am editor in chief of Medical Humanities, engaging conversation on critical issues of humanities and health. I am also the founder of Dósis, on online magazine concerning issues of medical humanities and social justice. On the surface, it may not seem entirely related to my other work–public engagement for a museum, or authoring books on the history of science. But for me, everything is about these connections.
What are the medical humanities?
Medical humanities is a means of reflection upon and examination of biomedicine in context—and a recognition that context is politicized, culturally complex, and frequently ambiguous. But to see such a broad a vista needs a broad approach. My aim isn’t to define the medicine humanities as a single, static instrument or lens. Instead, we want to reconsider the medical humanities as radical dialogic encounter—a place for conversation with those outside our own areas of specialty.
So much for the introduction to discipline; now for the point: I am far more interested in what things do than what they are. A metaphor I used recently took a page from nautical exploration. A bunch of ships circling in the ocean and remarking on what fine ships they are, and what kind of wood they are made from, really doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I want to know where they are going, what cargo are they carrying, and what will they do when they arrive. Much of what I saw unfolding in 2017 suggests that critical issues are coming to a head; we don’t really have time to float about.
A New Year’s Wish List
So what do I want in #2018? I’ve begun asking others this very question on #Twitter from the BMJ account:
— MedHums_BMJ (@MedHums_BMJ) January 3, 2018
And It is a question worth asking. What does it mean for me? Mostly this: I want to see a greatest focus on health justice. I don’t just mean who insures who. I mean justice and fairness across our health platforms. I want to see engagement on the color line (the way race and class influence where populations live and which populations are served, resulting in continued segregation). I want us to consider that, for those who are most oppressed, things often never change no matter who is in office or what policies are enacted–they remain outside, without access and frequently without hope. It isn’t just about having a chance to see the doctor when you are sick (itself a privilege in the USA), but about overall security of living. About knowing you have a roof over your head, and knowing where your next meal comes from. About being free of the stigma that leaves so many alone in the dark. But it means something else, too.
I come from a middle class family that was leveled by medical catastrophe. We went from secure to desperate over night. But even so, my situation is one of privilege. Despite the struggles, despite the fact that neither of my parents were highly educated, or that I came from an incredibly depressed abandoned mining territory, I was able to get multiple degrees and have enjoyed mobility. I work in a university setting, a edit a major journal. And along the way, I forgot that the way you fix a problem is not *necessarily* or *only* to throw education at it. Each of us who have risen to a place of influence have likely lost a sense of the grim realities, and our “fixes” can feel incredibly hollow. So though I say I want #2018MedHums to be engaging with social justice, I want to make sure this extends beyond interested conversation and symposia. It must mean more than published papers and special issues. To be honest, I don’t know what more–because the answers are complex, relational, and embedded. And so the biggest thing I want, I think, is conversation with those in need. Cross some boundaries. Hear the angry voices and the desperate ones, too. Because I want to help make a difference, and I am willing to listen and to learn.