From Dean Will Ross

Dr. Ross poses with Avril C., M1

Welcome to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis! While the latter distinction (in St. Louis) was added to differentiate us from other similar sounding, high-performing medical institutions that don’t provide as much free food, we’ve found our association with St. Louis to be one of mutual benefit. On your arrival, you will be captivated by the beauty, vitality and progressive spirit of the Central West End, and most of you will decide to reside in this very charming neighborhood. My wife and I raised two daughters in the Central West End and would not have dreamed of being anywhere else in St. Louis.

However, several blocks from the medical center, you will find neighborhoods grappling with generational poverty and escalating rates of sexually transmitted infections and chronic diseases. Even more, you have all witnessed the tremendous social upheaval in Ferguson, a small town within North St. Louis County. The St. Louis region is not immune from the social ills that plague our nation’s urban core: inadequate housing, high rates of joblessness or lack of livable-wage jobs, underperforming public schools, insufficient support of public health, and bias, whether explicit or unconscious, towards communities of color, as evidenced by police profiling of African American and Latino males. As one of the largest employers in St. Louis, we have a responsibility to be diverse and inclusive. We stand by our efforts to recruit a workforce that can fulfill our mission of advancing human health in a culture that supports diversity, inclusion, critical thinking and creativity. We pledge that everyone — no matter his or her race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or sexual preference, national origin or disability and regardless of position — should feel welcome and appreciated as part of our campus community. We accept our unique urban enclave for all its glory, and will not shy away from engaging with the St. Louis community to help eliminate the social factors that contributed to the crisis in Ferguson.

As an incoming student, you will be immersed in the fascinating world of scientific discovery and medical innovation, but you will not be allowed to forget that the true purpose of medicine is to uplift the human condition. We hope our Washington University Medical Plunge (WUMP) and Diversity Retreat experiences will compel you to become a force for good in the St. Louis region. Many of you will go on to become leaders and volunteers in the Saturday Neighborhood Health Clinic (SNHC), Casa de Salud, the Nutrition Outreach Program, and other student-run programs that collaborate with the St. Louis community. During your years in medical school, make sure you connect to the greater community and experience the tremendous personal satisfaction of service; acknowledging the marked difference you can make on the lives of those less fortunate. Allow yourself to be trained, in essence, in our medical center without walls. Your overall experience as a medical school student will then be much more rewarding at Washington University School of Medicine. In St. Louis.

Will Ross, MD
Associate Dean for Diversity
Director, Office of Diversity Programs

From Students

Ferguson, Mo., is only a few miles from St. Louis, my childhood and current home. Although the brunt of the violence, conflict and grief surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown has fallen on the residents of this small suburb, the entire St. Louis community has felt the ripples; St. Louis residents are now actively involved in a hitherto avoided, yet desperately needed, dialogue about police violence, culpability and justice. Unfortunately, this highly emotional and complex subject is made more difficult by misinformation and conjecture sensationalized by the media, which leads some to become divisive. However, I am encouraged that St. Louisans, as well as my classmates, are challenging each other, sharing differing perspectives, and critically thinking about disturbing inequalities within Ferguson and the country as a whole. Washington University is an ivory tower of academia and, as such, most students are nonnative, with marginal stake in the local community. Despite this, many have been galvanized by this issue, engaging in public marches and the National White Coat ‘Die-In’, and student interest in providing care to St. Louis’ underserved patients has never been stronger. Additionally, it is essential we acknowledge that all of us have been emotionally and ethically impacted by Michael Brown’s shooting, and are also aware that many of our patients are directly affected by daily injustice and violence. As tragedy can often be an impetus for growth, I am proud that the St. Louis community and the medical students of Washington University are coming together in solidarity, becoming stronger than ever before.

— Victor K., M1

As an international student, it was difficult for me to process the Ferguson events. I am not from the U.S., and thus, I have a somewhat limited understanding of white/black racial tensions. I’m not black or white, nor am I a voter or a taxpayer. That said, I think reducing the entire #BlackLivesMatter movement to the unfortunate death of Michael Brown might be missing the point. It isn’t just about one tragic death (whatever your opinion on the circumstances that lead up to it may be) but about all of them — all of the deaths that were preventable. You may still be wondering what this all means to you. Well, Ferguson brought to the public’s attention how deeply embedded institutionalized racism is in what some people call today’s “post-racial America.” Embedded, in institutions such as health care: blacks are less likely to be prescribed opioid pain meds, blacks are less likely to be put on transplant
lists, blacks are less likely to receive aggressive cardiovascular interventions, and blacks are more likely to receive lower limb amputations due to the delay in their care. Maybe you feel uncomfortable taking a stance on Michael Brown’s case, and that’s totally fine. But you need to think about what kind of doctor you want to be. Ranit Mushori from the Washington Post wrote about what it means to truly practice patient-centered care: “Our patients’ well-being extends far beyond the exam room, so caring for them means being active outside of the hospital. Doctors have a role as our patients’ advocates. I can think of no more fundamental way to fulfill that obligation than to stand up for our patients’ basic human rights.” And that’s why Ferguson should matter to you.

— Jorge Z. R., M1

St. Louis, like most large cities, has major problems with income disparity and institutionalized racism. You’ll learn a lot about these during your first few weeks here as part of the Washington University Medical Plunge (WUMP). Fortunately, the city also has a widespread effort to alleviate these problems. Non-profits like food pantries, educational programs and free health clinics dot the city, and one in every three St. Louisans give their time volunteering for these organizations. Last summer, our city’s inequalities and our citizens’ activism against those inequalities became international headlines after the shooting death of an unarmed teenager inspired thousands to protest institutionalized racism and police violence. This movement spread to cities across the world and inspired action at all levels of government. Living in St. Louis has given my classmates and me the opportunity to take part in this effort at its heart, and our school administration has been supportive of our decision to take action. At the onset of the protests, a list of safety tips was provided to all students in case they chose to participate, and we were allowed to hold multiple demonstrations on campus. None of this necessarily reflects an official stance of the university. However, our students have been encouraged to express their views on a controversial topic, and that is truly something to appreciate.

— Dillan N., M1