October 31, 2013

What’s Up, Doc?: A Clinic with a Cause

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By EMILY GRODINSKY

I am lucky that being a medical student and entering the medical profession is exactly the right fit for me. I find the science of the human body, the intricacies of forming a diagnosis and listening to patients both fascinating and stimulating. As a medical student interested in human rights and global health, I also have the privilege of learning about and advocating for the health of others who are not quite as lucky as me.

This is a path I have chosen to pursue, and I can do so without being arrested, beaten or having my family not know where I am. I can make these choices without fearing for my life because of the freedoms I have in this country, because of my family and friends’ support and because of the education and resources that are available to me. Ultimately, my ability to speak out and hopefully impact change one day comes from feeling safe, supported and free. My ability to be who I am, and to be happy, is undeniably related to not being persecuted by others because of a group with whom I identify, the people I love or the issues important to me.

I’m humbled to be a part of the Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, and to be part of the legal process that grants individuals asylum — the right to stay legally in the United States after fleeing from persecution in one’s home country. I am amazed that even in my first year of medical school I can draft a forensic medical affidavit that will boost an individual’s chances of being granted asylum in this country by roughly 65 percent. I’m proud to work with other classmates, clinicians, lawyers and social workers who advocate for the rights of asylum-seekers, often devoting hours of precious free time to help individuals from different backgrounds, with different ideologies and cultures.

I want to share a bit of my experience with the WCCHR because I believe this human rights clinic contributes to the restoration of hope, safety and happiness for people who have suffered unspeakable events. Having had the opportunity to assist with three evaluations, I have heard the stories of three incredible people who are mothers, fathers, human rights activists, community educators and politicians fighting for a better nation for their families. I have learned that by granting these individuals asylum, we are preventing them from being sent home to situations that would endanger their lives and the lives of those they love. When given a second chance in a safer setting as an asylee, some continue to bravely share their stories and work in the community advocating for others like them who temporarily lose the ability to advocate for themselves.

This clinic is still new and growing, but in my eight months at Weill Cornell Medical College, I am impressed with how much we have accomplished. Members of the WCCHR have conducted trainings for future clinical evaluators and medical students from New York and elsewhere, hosted networking events to connect members of the human rights community, presented at national conferences and built a continuing care program for our clients. We have this ability to create change not only because we have compassion and drive, but also because we are free and safe to speak out against human rights violations — a right that too few people have.

Emily Grodinsky is a second-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.  She may be reached at erg2010@med.cornell.edu. What’s Up, Doc? appears monthly this semester.

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