Viewpoint: Price fails to represent values of medicine

Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 6:41pm

Today, Tom Price, a Tea Party Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is scheduled to speak at the University of Michigan Medical School as part of a discussion series titled “Conversations With Leadership.” These talks were designed to highlight notable Medical School alumni who have followed unique paths to becoming physician leaders. We are thankful for the extremely privileged opportunity to learn medicine at an institution recognized for its innovation and commitment to patient-centered care. Moreover, University President Mark Schlissel, himself a physician-scientist, proudly believes that it is our diversity which embodies “the very core of the University’s excellence.” We write to point out how Price’s actions in Congress directly contradict the values we believe, as future physicians, are essential to advancing our field and serving our patients. His actions as a leader — both as a physician and a congressman — are not benign.

Throughout his tenure in office, Price has maintained partisan lines by voting against measures to prevent LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, provide funding to survivors of interpersonal violence, grant EPA oversight of greenhouse gas emissions and allow stricter regulation of tobacco by the FDA.  He has also supported measures that allow a person to carry concealed firearms, and this week, he voted to defund Planned Parenthood. These policy actions conflict with the ethical standards we have learned in medical school, as well as evidence-based guidelines and recommendations from major physician organizations. Through the Medical School’s curriculum, we have learned that having a gun in the home significantly increases the likelihood of being injured by one, that smoking tobacco is the major comorbidity for numerous diseases, that interpersonal violence is a major public health issue and that Planned Parenthood provides irreplaceable medical services to the needy. These issues not only affect our future patients, but also directly impact many of us and other medical students across the country.

Just this week, the University released findings regarding the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus. Like many in the University community, we were saddened and outraged upon learning that 22.5 percent of undergraduate females reported experiencing some form of nonconsensual sexual behavior in the past year. We are taught in our very first year of medical education that these experiences are grossly underreported in an official capacity — yet the signs and symptoms of sexual assault have a great impact on our patients’ mental and physical health. This issue is very personal for many of our classmates and colleagues, and makes Price’s 2013 vote opposing the Violence Against Women Act even more unsettling.  

We do not rebuke Price’s invitation to speak to our medical school community, as it gives us an opportunity to learn about his career path after medical school, which is indeed noteworthy. The issue at hand goes beyond a single man. Instead, we question how a physician-politician like himself can be promoted as a model of leadership and success to which medical students should aspire. The American Medical Association Principles of Ethics calls for the professional responsibility of all physicians (regardless of political party) to embody compassion and respect for human dignity and rights, serve their community, advance public health and encourage access to medical care for all individuals. As physicians-in-training, we are eager to learn and share in the proud legacy of world-class medical care and scientific discovery that defines the University of Michigan Medical School. However, it is imperative for us to critically examine individuals who are held up as examples worthy of emulation yet fail to represent the values of our institution and the ideals that are central to the practice of medicine.

Brian Yagi, Regina Royan, Vicky Koski-Karell, Heather Kinnear, Megan Lane, Jasmyne Jackson, Andy Eggleston, Grace Keeney, Katherine He, Jeremy Balch, Alexander Zheutlin and Brian Desmond are Medical School students.