Faculty are too often the major barrier to change in health education institutions and health systems. Faculty tend to view themselves as teachers, who teach, and the students as learners, who learn. However, this view is fundamentally oppressive. We can improve our ability to instill social medicine in health professions education if, instead of learning coming from a teacher bestowing knowledge on a student, learning comes through experiencing the reality of health inequity together, as students AND teachers, and working together to create new knowledge for all parties and the radical change that must follow it.
This may seem theoretical, but when protests erupted across Haiti on July 6 after the government’s announcement of significant increases in fuel prices, we knew that the content of our sixth annual social medicine course, “Beyond the biomedical basis of disease,” would ensure that students recognized the structural drivers of the unrest rather than accept the superficial news headlines, and that we needed more than ever to move forward with holding the course in Mirebalais, Haiti as planned (1). We began on July 9, despite the unrest, via a webinar by human rights lawyer Brian Concannon (2). We sought to come together as students and teachers (virtually for the first week and then in person for weeks two and three), sharing our experiences through discourse, to generate an understanding of the unrest in Haiti as being driven by structural injustice, rather than an oversimplified and racist narrative insistent on labeling Haitians as vicious plunderers (as a black American, this trick is all too familiar) (3). One of the foundational sessions in our three-week long social medicine immersion course is “Neoliberalism and Health Care,” which explores the complex web of international aid, from the International Monetary Fund’s structural readjustment programs to the real-life impact of tied aid. With this course under their belts, students would not fall into the trap of blaming Haitian leaders alone for the recent unrest, but would recognize the behind the scenes hand of global development paradigms.