“Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.” – Confucius

The PHR National Student Program would like to recognize the wisdom, compassion and courage of Mount Sinai medical students Hana Akselrod, Cedric Bien, Brendan Milliner , Matthew Spinelli, Uma Tadepalli, and Jamie Zimmerman. Based on their collaborative work, Hana, Brendan, and Jaime recently published “Restoring Our Professional Integrity: Perspectives on Torture from U.S. Medical Students,” in The Lancet Student. The authors condemn the torture violations by American physicians and offer a very compelling argument for upholding the Hippocratic tradition and respecting the universality of human rights:

“Physician-assisted torture is so egregious a violation of medical ethics, that it justifies a definitive response. As medical students and young physicians, we are compelled by beneficence and pride in our chosen profession to help end this shameful practice for good. We hope that other states in our country will follow New York’s example with their own laws and measures, and that we will see medical educators rise to the occasion, by placing a greater emphasis on professional ethics and human rights.”

Hana, Brendan and Jamie are members of the New York Medical Student Coalition Against Torture (NYCAT) and wrote the article on behalf of this group of concerned doctors, psychologists, lawyers, students and citizens. The Coalition has mobilized medical professionals and fellow students across New York State to support the Gottfried-Duane Anti-Torture Bill (S. 4495-A/A. 6665-B), introduced into the New York State Assembly and State Senate in February 2010. This bill is an innovative law proposed in New York that seeks to hold medical professionals accountable for enabling torture and to ease pressure on doctors working in dual-loyalty situations to assist in torture. If passed, it would be the first law of its kind in the nation.

According to Hana Akselrod, publishing the article was a rather straight-forward process. The three co-writers originally envisioned that the article would be posted online as a professional blog post for the Lancet Student blog and/or the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) Global Pulse Journal blog. However, upon submitting the blog post, the Lancet staff liked it so much they requested that Hana, Brendan and Jamie refine it according to professional publication standards. Hana explains that while this made it a much lengthier process, it also became a much more rewarding one as well. The article was published approximately six months after writing the original blog draft; however, as an official publication, it carries extra weight (both recognition and respect) within the greater medical community. Additionally, Hana underscores the very real value in the collaborative process in which she and Brendan and Jamie engaged – especially learning how to properly reference one’s work.

Medical students have a unique voice and there is pressing need for more students to articulate their opinions in formal publications such as the Lancet Student. As Hana, Brendan and Jamie can attest, engaging in professional blogging is a great way to get started.

Please join PHR in congratulating these students and their fellow Coalition members on this impressive accomplishment. They are, without question, compassionate and wise students who have courageously raised their voices and mobilized their peers to advocate for respecting the greater good – that of human rights.

Mount Sinai has been doing other noteworthy things as well. They launched a Human Rights Clinic for asylum seekers and refugees. The clinic has trained over 120 students, including 60 students involved in clinical sessions and affidavit writing. They recently began an elective –Health, Human Rights, and Advocacy” – inspired by the 2010 PHR National Student Conference, Health and Human Rights Education. You can see more of their work on their Chapter website. This blog contains information about the events that they’ve hosted, as well as a page for our new student elective. The student elective page has a discussion board as well as links to readings for each session.

Having engaged, supportive faculty has been key for the Chapter. As director of Mount Sinai’s Human Rights Clinic, Dr. Ramin Asgary has ensured opportunities for students to translate what they learn in the classroom into clinical practice, to the benefit of asylum seekers in the New York City area. Dr. Holly Atkinson, former PHR Board member and advisor to the Mount Sinai chapter, has nurtured in her students a passion for pursuing their professional roles within a health and human rights framework, and she serves as an exceptional resource for students. Both Dr. Asgary and Dr. Atkinson were at the 2010 Conference, and will speak at the 2011 Conference this Saturday. The students of Mount Sinai will present at the Conference as well, to give other students a sense of how they’ve been able to accomplish such remarkable achievements – even as busy med school students.

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