Einstein/Montefiore Department of Medicine

Standing Up for Social Justice

White Coats large

Hours before sunrise on the morning of January 21, about 50 Montefiore-Einstein faculty, residents, fellows and students boarded a pair of rented mini-buses and headed to the historic Women’s March in Washington, DC.

Donning their white physician’s coats, members of the departments of Medicine, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Family and Social Medicine marched alongside the estimated half a million protesters that descended that day on the nation’s capital.  Many came armed with signs whose handwritten messages stated: “White Coats for Social Justice," “Health Care is a Human Right,” and “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” among a plethora of hot-button issues.

white coats for social justice
Dr. Julia Arnsten

For our socially conscious physicians, many of whom provide clinical care to a largely underserved population, the new administration’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, rollback reproductive rights, defund women’s healthcare initiatives, and deny immigrant rights was a compelling call for action.

“We went because healthcare is a human right and we support the Affordable Care Act,” said Dr. Julia Arnsten, Professor of Medicine and Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine, who wore a purple and pink knit cap. “We believe doctors are an important voice and we wanted our voice to be heard.”

Blanco with students
Dr. Irene Blanco and
Einstein medical students

Dr. Irene Blanco marched on behalf of her rheumatology patients who are afflicted with potentially devastating diseases that disproportionately affect the poor and people of color.  “They depend on this legislation,” said Dr. Blanco, Associate Dean for Diversity Enhancement and Associate Professor of Medicine (Rheumatology).  “While the ACA is not perfect, it provides coverage to millions of Americans who would otherwise have been uninsured. We all need to work together to solve problems like making healthcare available and affordable to all.”

For Dr. Chinazo Cunningham, walking alongside her 80-year-old mother, Pat Opia, a retired high school teacher who worked with marginalized teenagers at risk for dropping out of school, was one of the many highlights of a day that was inspiring overall. “She has had a huge influence on my life and career,” said Dr. Cunningham, Professor of Medicine (General InternalMedicine) and of Family and Social Medicine and Director of Diversity Affairs for the Department of Medicine, whose focus is developing programs and conducting research with marginalized populations, specifically drug users with or at risk for HIV infection. 

Chinazo and mom
Dr. Chinazo Cunningham and
her mom Pat Opia
As a physician and mother of three daughters, Dr. Cunningham said she is rattled by the thought that millions of Americans could lose access to medical care and to women’s reproductive rights.  “There are so many other issues that I am worried about, including immigrant rights, the well-being of minorities, and the important role of science and data,” said Dr. Cunningham, who carried a sign that read, “Healthcare is a Human Right.”

Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, Assistant Professor of Medicine (General Internal Medicine), was among the dozen or so male Montefiore-Einstein physicians who marched for the right to healthcare and to support his female colleagues. “I am a feminist,” Dr. Bachhuber said, “and an ally in the fight for equal rights for women.”

The group was featured in an online article in Refinery 29.

Group 600
The Montefiore-Einstein team in Washington, DC


Meanwhile, back in New York City another group of Montefiore-Einstein faculty and residents took to the streets to defend Americans' rights to affordable healthcare.

Dr. Erin Goss

Dr. Erin Goss, Assistant Professor of Medicine (General Internal Medicine) and Co-director of the Primary Care and Social Internal Medicine (PCSIM) residency program, carried her seven-month-old son, Miles, as she walked along Fifth Ave. with PC SIM residents and the Physicians for a National Health Program. As both a mom and a clinician, she cares deeply about the rights of women, particularly those of childbearing age, to retain the choice concerning birth control and family planning and the same benefit coverage for contraception that she was afforded under the ACA. Dr. Goss said, “I benefited from the fact that my insurance company was not allowed to charge me a higher rate just because I was a woman of childbearing age. I benefited from the fact that lactation consultation and breast pumps are reimbursable under the ACA as preventive health benefits, so that I could give my son a healthy start and continue to breastfeed after returning to work. I benefited from the fact that contraception was a covered benefit after my delivery, so that I can space out my next pregnancy. ”She added, “We risk losing all these benefits for women with the repeal of the ACA.”

Tomer white coat
Yaron Tomer, MD

“I’m so proud of our Montefiore-Einstein team for participating in the Women’s Marches,” said Department of Medicine Chair Dr. Yaron Tomer. “It‘s important to express our solidarity with the message of social justice, which is also at the DNA of our institution.”

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