Health Equity

4 ways to excel as a physician advocate in residency training

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

Amanda Calhoun, MD, MPH, has a passion to improve mental health care in this country and advance health equity. Those are tall tasks, so even for a resident physician she is a busy woman.

In addition to her duties as chief resident of the Yale University School of Medicine Albert J. Solnit Integrated Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatry Program, Dr. Calhoun recently completed the Medical Justice in Advocacy Fellowship. That fellowship is offered by the AMA in collaboration with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Succeed in residency with AMA benefits

  • Laurel Road student loan refinance: 0.25% rate discount.
  • Access to the JAMA Network™, ClassPass gym discounts & more!

Supporting you today. Protecting your future.

As part of that work, she founded the “Black Youth Mental Health Clinical Case Conference Series,” launched at Yale in January. She has also written more than 30 op-eds in national publications on topics related to anti-Black racism and has conducted research on the mental health sequelae of anti-Black racism in children.

Dr. Calhoun, an AMA member, has found that advocacy can take on many forms. She offered insight on a few key avenues where she has honed her voice.

“My goal is to be the best doctor I can be for my patients,” said Dr. Calhoun. “So, if I see my patients are experiencing anti-Black racism or other injustices, I’m not going to stand for it. I advocate for the patients who need it, and some patients need you to fight extra hard for them.”

Amanda Calhoun, MD, MPH
Amanda Calhoun, MD, MPH

What does that look like in practice? Dr. Calhoun offered the example that Black children are more likely to be physically restrained in emergency departments than children of other races.

“I moonlight in a lot of different hospitals,” she noted. “A main source of tension is that a nurse is trying to bully me essentially into restraining a patient. You can’t be afraid to say no, even if in some people’s view you are going against the grain.”

The AMA Thriving in Residency series has guidance and resources on navigating the fast-paced demands of training, maintaining health and well-being, handling medical student-loan debt, and other essential tips about succeeding in graduate medical training.

Dr. Calhoun considers herself a writer at heart, and her view is that data can help shape the narrative. She hopes that will be the result of the research she is now conducting on the effects on anti-Black racism on children.

“Research can tell a story,” Dr. Calhoun said. “If you look at anything I’ve written, both my scholarly publications and op-eds, there is data intertwined with anecdotes. Stories draw people in and then you can offer the research and statistics behind them.” 

Subscribe and thrive in residency

Get tips and insider advice from the AMA on navigating and making the most of medical residency—delivered to your inbox.

Illustration of resident looking at a diagnostic image

The 14 months she spent training in the Medical Justice in Advocacy Fellowship program put Dr. Calhoun around like-minded physicians in an environment in which “everybody could learn from each other and collaborate.”

Applications are being accepted through March 15 for the next cohort of Medical Justice in Advocacy Fellows. Learn more and apply now.

Since finishing the fellowship, Dr. Calhoun launched the Black Youth Mental Health Clinical Case Conference Series at Yale, offering attendees a chance to learn and grow from each of the six patient stories in the series. Part of the process is that each case requires those in attendance to ask some difficult, often uncomfortable, questions. Local participants are strongly encouraged to attend in person, though a virtual option is available. Register now.

“A typical clinical case conference focuses a lot on the behavior of the patient or perhaps a rare side effect to a medicine,” Dr. Calhoun said. “But what if the racist behavior of the medical team is a big part of the problem? And what if that led to lapses in care with the child?”

Each case discussion includes a panel of three experts and a case that is presented by either a trainee or medical student. The sessions start and end with a story. That narrative provides the basis for the ensuing discussion.

“All the cases are heavily anonymized—nobody knows where they came from, which institution, which location,” Dr. Calhoun said. “Because of that, we're able to talk very candidly about these issues and also generate solutions.”

Dr. Calhoun’s roster of published op-eds includes some of the nation’s most prominent publications, including The Washington Post, Time magazine and The Boston Globe. Her focus is medical anti-Black racism, the racist behaviors of medical professionals, and how these affect Black children and the physicians and health professionals who care for them.

“A lot of my op-eds are very personal,” Dr. Calhoun said. “It’s not just about your argument, it’s about how you feel. Readers like stories. They relate to stories and dynamics.”

To hone her skills, Dr. Calhoun entered an op-ed writing fellowship during her residency training. “Physicians are not routinely taught to write for the general press, but they should. The pieces that I have published have led to a greater impact than I could have ever imagined,” she said.

“There are people out there that do want to hear your voice, your authentic voice, and aren't afraid to publish those things.”