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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Medical Students Stage 'Die-In' To Raise Awareness Of Race Issues

Taylor Dobbs
Medical students at the University of Vermont held signs while laying still for four and a half minutes, symbolizing the 4 and a half hours Michael Brown's dead body was left on a Ferguson street after he was killed.

A group of about 50 medical students at the University of Vermont staged a "die-in" Monday to show solidarity with similar actions across the U.S., and to raise awareness of race issues.

The students who organized the demonstration said it wasn't outside of their purview to weigh in on the national conversation on racial issues since this summer's events in Ferguson, Missouri. The goal, the students said, was to spark discussions in medical schools around the U.S. about the racial discrimination that "kills, sickens and provides inadequate care."

Syed Samin Shehab, a second-year student, was one of the students who organized the event.

"The idea was to start talking about how racism affects how we take care of people in our societies," he said.

Shehab said he hoped the group's status as medical professionals - and the fact that they all wore white lab coats for the demonstration - would bring more attention to the issue.

"We are using, I guess, a privilege that we have been given as medical students to frame this issue," he said.

Shebab said the medical establishment itself has improvements to make when it comes to race.

Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR
Medical students said racial discrimination in the U.S. affects medical care in minority communities, a problem they hope to help address.

"When we talk about explicit and implicit discrimination, we talk about, 'Who are the students that are coming to medicine when we look at the entire demographics of students that are coming into medical school?'" he said. "What are the educational opportunities that are available to people as they're coming through elementary school and middle school and high school? Who gets to go to college, and who gets to do well in college?"

The answers to those questions, he said, are tied to the quality and availability of care in minority communities across the United States.

"More often than not, we [medical students] end up going back to our own communities to serve," he said, "and not a lot of physicians may be serving in the inner cities or rural areas."

Photos and tweets from the UVM event and others like it around the country can be found on social media under the hashtag #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
Alex was a reporter and host of VPR's local All Things Considered. He was also the co-host and co-creator of the VPR program Brave Little State.
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