In medical school, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture; many of us bury ourselves in studying and concern ourselves only with our impending exams rather than what they will eventually allow us to do. But then there are those moments that reaffirm our dedication and show us that the opportunities we’ve been afforded will allow us to truly make a difference. Dr. Withers’ visit did just that.
Dr. Withers, a pioneer of the street medicine movement, generously donated his time to speak to us about his personal journey into the field as well as future directions we might take as an organization and more individually as future physicians. His talk ranged from touching to upsetting to motivational. He showed images and shared stories about his childhood mission trips with his medically inclined parents to his humble beginnings as a medical student searching for a residency program that would allow him to serve a chronically forgotten and ignored population: the homeless.
From there, he described how he established his connection to the community in order to help them. He learned to dress “like a homeless person,” sometimes rubbing dirt into his hair and wearing tattered clothing to remain inconspicuous and appear as more of an equal in order to gain trust. He pointed out how he tailors his posture to show patients their due respect, often crouching at their feet or sitting beside them as he listens to their stories, appreciates their humanity, and provides the necessary care. His concern for the homeless is extremely apparent, and his dedication is inspiring.
Dr. Withers’ presentation reminded me that, regardless of skill level, we are all capable of helping in some way. Whether we listen to stories, take blood pressures, form differential diagnoses, prescribe medications, or simply choose to keep an open mind about the homeless community, we are all involved in creating an environment that helps to rehabilitate and strengthen individuals who have found themselves without homes. As my classmates and I continue to learn new skills and become the next generation of physicians, I hope we all keep Dr. Withers’ lessons in mind.
"To love is not to give of your riches but to reveal to others their riches; their gifts; their value; and to trust them and their capacity to grow. So it is important to approach people in their brokenness and littleness gently, so gently, not forcing yourself on them, but accepting them as they are, with humility and respect." – Jean Vanier
Sarah Bommarito, MSI