Public health and social justice

Last week, I was contacted by a physician, Dr Martin Donohoe, who is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Community Health at Portland State University, Oregon.  Dr Donohoe asked if I would be willing to post a lecture that I gave on open access as a human rights issue to a website that he runs, called Public Health and Social Justice.

After first spending some time looking around the website, including reading a lecture that Dr Donohoe gave about why social justice is a health concern (called Activism in Medicine: History, Literature, and Contemporary Issues and Movements, available here), I was happy for him to post my talk.  I was intrigued by the site, so I interviewed him via e-mail.  Here’s my short Q and A with Martin Donohoe.

Q. Why did you start the Public Health and Social Justice website?

A. As a student, practicing physician, and educator, I have felt that health professions training inadequately addresses the social, economic, cultural, environmental, and political contributors to health and illness. Public health and social justice issues are often marginalized in both training and practice.

Q. What were its aims?

A. To provide a venue for open-sharing of slide shows, course syllabi, and articles relevant to public health and social justice. Since I had dozens of slide shows that I updated yearly, yet reached only a handful of students per year, I desired to share my work with a larger audience, as well as learn from others. I hoped to create an on-line clearinghouse for information and curricular materials. Eventually I would like to work with others to develop an annual, week-long colloquium/training for health professionals, students, and others interested in becoming social justice advocates.

Q. How long has it been up and running, and how many people is it reaching?

A. It began in November, 2007, has had about 65,000 visitors, and currently gets over 4,000 hits per month.

Q. What kind of feedback have you received?

A. Feedback has been quite positive (outside of a few angry emails), and has turned an isolated, time-consuming, unpaid hobby into a satisfying endeavor. Over time I am getting more submissions from colleagues in medicine, nursing, and public health.

Q. Why do you think it is important for health professionals to be aware of social justice?

A. Health professionals have a responsibility to oppose, individually and collectively, those forces which contribute to the spread of poverty, the marginalization of women, environmental degradation, racism, human rights abuses, war, and myriad other injustices, at the local, national, and international levels.

Q. I saw your interesting lecture on this topic, which has some great quotes from Dr Martin Luther King and others.  Which is your favorite quote and why choose that one?

A. It is hard to pick a favorite, but (for this week at least) I will go with these two:

1) In a lighthearted vein, from a 1999 Utah anti-drug pamphlet: “Danger signs that your child may be smoking marijuana include excessive preoccupation with social causes, race relations, and environmental issues.” While I have never had the desire nor occasion to try marijuana, this made it sound worthwhile.

2) From Anita Roddick: “If you think you are too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in your tent.”

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