Medical School Life

What it takes to find success as a medical student leader

. 8 MIN READ
By

Brendan Murphy

Senior News Writer

AMA News Wire

What it takes to find success as a medical student leader

Dec 18, 2023

In the midst of a seven-year MD-PhD program, Jasmin Eatman is busy. Not too busy, however, to become a leader on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion on her medical school’s campus and beyond.

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Eatman, an AMA member, is an outstanding example of a medical student leader who is making an impact. Now in year five of her MD-PhD program at Emory University School of Medicine, Eatman is serving as the AMA Medical Student Section representative to the AMA Minority Affairs Section. She recently took time to offer insight on her journey in medicine and how she has taken on a leadership role to advance health equity.

AMA: Can you tell us about the work you have been doing on Emory’s campus related to the Supreme Court ruling that restricted higher-education institutions from considering an applicant’s race or ethnicity in admission decisions?

Eatman: The issue that we’ve taken up is understanding how we’re going to be proactive, rather than reactive, as an institution about the change in the landscape and the dynamic of race-conscious admissions. My personal interest and passion for this particular work is in the context of medical education.

I helped draft and present the resolution at the AMA Annual Meeting this year about race-conscious admissions and affirmative action. That resolution highlighted how banning affirmative action is a critical threat to health equity and to the medical profession. After providing testimony for that resolution at the AMA Annual meeting, going through the entire process, having it successfully pass the AMA House of Delegates, and then returning to campus, I felt this really strong desire to see it through at a local level–and specifically in my educational community.

A medical student leader here at Emory named Maxwell Richardson drafted a letter to the administration at Emory University about affirmative action and race-conscious admissions. He addressed it to all of the deans and galvanized all of the student leaders from across the school to sign onto this letter.

I’m currently the co-chair for the Independent-Student Analysis of the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, or LCME, reaccreditation process for Emory School of Medicine. I was really excited to be able to use my experience in advocacy on the subject at the national level, and my position as one of the leaders in LCME evaluation of the school, to create space for this work.

My co-chair and I signed this letter and delivered it personally to the dean of the school of medicine. We felt it was really important to get this letter front and center. In our role with the LCME, we see our task as a good-faith effort to ensure that Emory is a better place in the next eight years than it was in the last eight years. That effort was directly in line with the ongoing advocacy around race-conscious admissions in our community, so we worked hard to amplify students’ voices on the subject.

AMA: How are you keeping the issue at the forefront of the campus discourse?

Eatman: There’s a lot of work to do across the country on these issues, and the conversations can be difficult. After delivering the letter, we had a meeting of student leaders at Emory, and what we walked away from that meeting with was a resolve to continue the work together. I think that it was really a unifying moment for the student leaders and the student body at Emory.

We recognized that this work would not be done if we were not active in it. And I am happy to report now, that there is going to be a town hall with students and faculty at Emory to talk about race-conscious admissions. I strongly believe this was spurred on by the work of the student groups who brought that letter forward.

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AMA: You’ve also been active at the local legislative level on creating policy issues related to race. Why are you approaching this issue on multiple fronts?

Eatman: My goal is to hit issues of equity, inclusion, and diversity from multiple angles and at multiple levels, because I truly believe that this work is creating actionable solutions for all medical students, all trainees, and particularly those who come from underrepresented backgrounds. It’s important that we don’t think about structural racism and its manifestations as a one-dimensional issue with a one-dimensional solution. It’s going to take all of us. So, that’s really where I’m coming from in my work on the subject. The most recent work on affirmative action is one example of that.

AMA: Can you talk about some of the challenges you face in moving this topic forward as a medical student? How has organized medicine been an asset?

Eatman: It’s difficult to be a medical student at the beginning of my academic journey, a PhD student studying issues of structural racism, and a Black woman earning both a medical and doctoral degree in the South. So, the layers are tremendous.

I would also like to add this context: My involvement in the AMA was fraught with tension for me in the beginning. I was president of the Student National Medical Association my first year, which was born out of the National Medical Association.

The reason that the National Medical Association was formed was because Black physicians were not allowed membership in the AMA. When I first had the opportunity to be involved in the AMA, and I went to my first Annual Meeting, I got a chance to provide testimony for a resolution I co-authored on voting as a social determinant of health—that was last year—it was very empowering for me, and helped me to see the many opportunities to create positive, lasting change that are available through involvement in the AMA.

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AMA: What tips would you offer to medical students who aim to become leaders?

Eatman: What it takes first of all is some grit, some perseverance. A lot of the work that I’ve done has not been successful the first time around. And I’ll say this, some folks have not seen the value of it the first time around, even the second or third time around. But my goal is always to remain focused on what I know is important for people like me, and for all students really, to be able to succeed. And part of that is just a consistent commitment to equity and prioritizing inclusivity in these spaces.

The second thing I think is great mentorship. And that’s something that I am so grateful for in so many different ways, not only professionally, but personally. When I’m pushing these issues and having the hard conversations, being able to call one of my mentors on the phone and say, "All right, this is what I’m facing. These are my sets of issues. How do you think I’m navigating this?" Being able to be introspective and open to the good feedback of my mentors is incredibly important to me as well.

The third thing is having a really strong sense of community. So, I don’t think about this work as being only of personal importance. It’s not something that I just do because I think it’s so important, or just because I’m so passionate about it. It’s bigger than me. I really believe in my heart of hearts that this work is necessary for the medical community, and for patients to be cared for at the highest level of excellence by our medical community.

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AMA: How would you say medical students can get started in leadership?

Eatman: A good place to start is recognizing where the gaps are. So, not just thinking about what’s missing, or what you wish was happening, but where are the gaps? Even if you can’t identify a concrete issue that has a perfect solution, or even if you don’t really understand all the interlocking issues, just find out where the gaps are, and how can you fill those gaps with the tools and partnerships available to you.

An example I’d offer is my work as the immediate-past medical student representative for District IV of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). I led the creation of a textbook that is now published on ACOG’s website. It’s called In Plain Sight.

What it does, simply, is it provides images of common clinical conditions in Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) on brown skin. And the reason that we did that is because we recognized there was a gap in our medical education with regard to diversity of educational imagery. When we were shown images of clinical pathology in OB/GYN, it was always on light-skinned, white-skinned, fair-skinned people. We recognized that issue not only as a gap that was detrimental to our education, but that we think is likely connected to healthcare disparities out in practice.

The next thing that I would suggest is to be brave. The work of advocacy is intimidating in many different ways. And I would go as far as to say that there are folks who are set out to intimidate medical students who are underrepresented, who are working still to find their voice. Because medicine has not always been a space where everyone has been welcomed.

My wish for medicine is for it to be a space where anyone who wants to care can care safely, freely and provide the highest level of excellence for our patients. Ultimately, that's my guiding line.

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