Student led activism in healthcare

(l-r), Labiba Rahman, Dr Sue Wareham OAM, Professor Terry Slevin, and Blessy Fernandez activism, adovacy, medical students, medicine, doctor, Blessy Fernandez, Labiba Rahman The seminar participants listen on as a student presents Placard making activity

Doctors are highly skilful, scientifically trained professionals, with firsthand exposure to the health system. This puts them in a unique position to influence and campaign for public health issues. But before they are doctors, they are medical students. 

Ms Labiba Rahman, Co-Chair with Ms Blessy Fernandez of the Global Health Society (a sub-group of the ANU Medical Students’ Society) advised, “Health activism – which is focused on intentional, direct and noticeable action to achieve a set goal - generally isn’t pursued by medical students nor is it prioritised within the medical curriculum. To fill this gap, we ran a seminar focussed on activism to educate, motivate and inspire students to take action, and provide a safe space for participation.”

In support of the student led event, Professor Russell Gruen the Dean of the College of Health and Medicine, along with population health experts from the School of Medicine and Psychology - Associate Professor Rafat Hussain and Dr Sutarsa Nyoman - were in attendance.

The seminar included practical activities such as reflective exercises on the barriers and enablers towards activism, capacity-building exercises to enhance skills such as rebuttals against logical fallacies, and goal-oriented exercises to allow students to express their interests towards different health issues such as placard making.

Professor Terry Slevin, CEO for the Public Health Association of Australia, and Dr Sue Wareham, OAM, Nobel Peace Prize winner, President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War and a board member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons were invited to present.

Ms Rahman explained, “These speakers were chosen because of their passion towards health activism and their preparedness and experience to train the next generation of doctors with the necessary values, skills, and actions. Their knowledge in navigating Australian and International structures to achieve their health activism goals offered an invaluable learning experience for attendees.”

Mr Matthew Hee, a second year medical student who participated in the event said, “My favourite part of the day was listening to both speakers talk about the ways they partook in activism during the span of their career. It was inspiring to hear the changes they created through their hardwork, and the meaningful impact this had on the health of populations.”

“I found it moving that these health professionals spent their time dedicated to causes that would impact the health of generations to come. I also enjoyed asking questions and hearing very detailed answers from these leaders in the field.”

“I’ve come away from the seminar understanding that as a future medical professional I can leverage my privileged position to contribute to making change in health care, systems and policy.  Even small contributions such as joining local advocacy groups or showing up to support an event can lead to meaningful change,” Mr Hee advised.

Ms Rahman remarked, “We were very pleased with the turn out for this event – the first of its kind. It shows an interest from medical students on the topic of activism. We hope the engagement from participants garners attention and is something that will be pursued by future committee members.”