Why the Vermont student rally for single payer is important to me

I'm a fourth-year student preparing to start residency in Family Medicine. I chose medicine, and primary care in particular, to provide access to health care to the underserved. From all I have read and learned so far, it has become abundantly clear that a single-payer health care plan is the best way to address the horrifying inequities in health care in our country. Being in Massachusetts, I've seen firsthand how alternative solutions have fallen short. I'm so inspired by the hope that Vermont can lead the way in showing the country what single payer can do. It gives me hope for the future of health care reform.

-- Anjana Sharma
Harvard Medical School 2011

As a University of Vermont College of Medicine student it is incredibly exciting to have students and practitioners come from around the country to support the health reform process that is currently happening in Montpelier. Many of us plan to practice in Vermont after our training is complete, and it is our great hope that every future patient will have the ability to afford quality health coverage for themselves and their families through a single payer system, while still allowing Vermont providers the means to care for their patients in a financially sustainable fashion. We appreciate all of the nationwide support that this rally is highlighting, and we look forward to the time spent together on March 26th!

-- Larry Bodden
University of Vermont College of Medicine 2014

I'm a second-year medical student at Albany Medical College in New York and co-president of our PNHP chapter here. Last week I was reminded of why I am a single payer activist. I saw a 62-year-old patient at our downtown screening clinic that had stopped taking his hypertension medication three years ago. His blood pressure was so high we considered sending him to the emergency room. He was a cook in town, but couldn’t afford his medication. He was also a smoker, and his landlord had recently turned off his heat. Needless to say, winter in Albany gets quit frigid. We gave the gentleman a number to a full service free clinic in town, as well as information on free legal aid to pursue his negligent landlord. But I couldn’t help but feeling defeated. This patient needed more. Here was a person whose life would have directly benefited from regular and reliable medical attention and care -- his blood pressure would be within a safe range, he would be receiving regular reminders by a physician about the importance of tobacco cessation, he would be connected with resources to improve his dangerous housing condition. It’s not easy to be a student activist, but it’s experiences like these that motivate me. I’m motivated to work for single payer because I know it will improve the lives of my patients and will enhance the effectiveness of, and therefore the pride I have for, our profession.

-- Danielle Alexander
Albany (N.Y.) Medical College 2013

Health care should be a right and not based upon the ability to pay. Single payer will allow health care providers to care for all patients who require assistance for healing, regardless of health insurance plan or amount of coverage. Aspiring doctors should be able to practice medicine in an environment that encourages patient-physician relationships and focuses on well-being, rather than on reimbursement rates and profit.

-- Kathleen Mahan
University of Minnesota Medical School 2013

I'm a fourth-year medical student at the Yale School of Medicine, and I entered the field of medicine so that I could help care for anyone who asked. I see that the cost of health insurance is crippling individuals, families, and businesses across the nation. Governor Shumlin of Vermont understands that single payer is the best solution for his state. I’ve been helping to organize the March 26 rally in Montpelier help make single payer a reality. Let's hope that Vermont can lead the way for all 50 states!

-- Carl Berdahl
Yale School of Medicine 2012

As a nurse practitioner working with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, I see firsthand the gaps that patient after patient fall through in our current medical system. My patients experience the greatest of life's hardships every day. The least we can do is give them an equal chance at being healthy to have the strength to pull themselves up again. We need health care reform that is actually comprehensive and completely universal.

-- Desiree Otenti
Boston University School of Public Health 2012

As a future physician, I want to participate in a rally that stands for the kind of health care system that I hope to be a practicing part of. As a student at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, I am honored that the state of Vermont is being used as an example of a health care system worth striving for in other states and, hopefully, around the nation. I believe that health care is a fundamental human right and I hope that the rally will spread awareness that physicians in training are hopeful for a system where the patient and physician are focused on one goal, rather than divided between barriers created by insurance companies. It is my hope that setting the example of a single-payer system in Vermont can demonstrate to the nation that comprehensive, quality and affordable care is possible and worth striving for. It is also my hope that policy makers can see that physicians should be involved in decisions about health care and health care policy and should be able to be more involved -- since, after all, they are the ones committed to working for the system.

-- Mariah H. Stump
University of Vermont College of Medicine 2012

"Miller, this place is killing me!"" That's Murphy's Law at P.S. 163, a struggling Bronx, New York, elementary school. Ms. Murphy, another faculty member at the school where I taught in 2006 and 2007, started saying that after we had been teaching there for eight months. Unfortunately, some places really can kill you, or at least contribute to an early death: I know that because I hope to devote my career as a physician to promoting the safety of public institutions like P.S. 163 through environmental epidemiology advocacy and research. There's no reason why harmful environmental conditions should exist, no place in the America we like to think we know. We need to establish a fair and just American health care system. Vermonters: we’ve we've got you covered.

-- Maureen Miller
New York University School of Medicine 2013

I feel that the knowledge and experiences that I will gain at the Vermont student rally will translate to a stronger and more robust coordination in Oregon's fight for single-payer health care. This is the great social movement of my generation, and I want to be there on the front lines to help bring it to fruition in Vermont. I have talked with my wife and she has encouraged me to go. "This is your movement," she says. I’m going.

-- Richard Bruno
Oregon Health and Science University 2013

I am really excited to go to Vermont to show that my generation of doctors is not willing to let the American health care system fail our patients. Currently, the way we provide health care recapitulates and exacerbates the inequalities of our society. It was working at a free clinic at a homeless shelter that made me want to go to medical school. I saw how a doctor-patient interaction had the power to either support or undermine a patient's sense of self-worth, and unfortunately how often the latter happens. When we continue to construct a health care system based on charity care or a two-tiered model, we send a message that not all Americans are equally deserving of medical care. And this will remain true no matter how much I care for each individual patient unless we have systems-level reform. I’m going the rally in Vermont so that someday soon I won't have to work in a medical system that keeps patients and our society sick.

-- Kirsten Austad
Harvard Medical School 2013

I entered the field of medicine in order to serve those less empowered by circumstance and society, who often experience significant challenges to living healthfully and managing disease. Through my training in medicine and public health thus far, I have seen firsthand how much the current lack of a unified and equitable health care system is a stumbling block in doing the work I care about. This is why action to improve health care, through measures such as implementing a single-payer financing system, is important to me. I strongly believe that our best hope for true systematic health reform in the U.S. lies with individual states that can implement a single-payer financing mechanism along with other reforms to improve health care and control costs. If these leaders are successful, then other states, the broader public, and Washington will find the lure of a well-functioning health care system irresistible. My hope is that some day, everyone in this country will have access to health care and the resources necessary to maximize their health. Lead the way, Vermont!

-- Jonathan Takahashi
Harvard Medical School 2012

It doesn't take long in the hospital to see that the way we arrange health care and health care spending is irrational -- it’s not good for patients and it’s not good for health care providers. As a third-year medical student in the Cambridge Integrated Clerkship at Cambridge Health Alliance, I've had the chance to see the health system from the patient’s perspective as I follow patients longitudinally through the year. Experiences with these patients have deepened my commitment to single payer. As I help with organizing this rally, I think about a patient I saw in my primary care clinic who came in with uncontrolled diabetes. This man has private insurance through the grocery store where he has worked for a decade -- only his plan is full of holes. He reached his spending limit two weeks into his month and was left to pay out-of-pocket for his medications and diabetes supplies -- items he simply couldn't fit into his budget if he wanted to pay for his kid's clothes or put food on the table. I asked him if he has been checking his sugars and he said, of course not, the strips are too costly. This is just one of many patients’ lives I've seen affected by our current system of insurance. These stories make me proud to be part of a movement to right health injustices and to humanize and reorganize our system in a way that makes it possible to get patients the care they need. We need to make single-payer health care a reality.

-- Simeon Kimmel
MD/PhD in Anthropology, Harvard Medical School 2016