A Newsweek op-ed penned by a first-year Pritzker student and published Friday highlighted the challenges people experiencing homelessness face in accessing medical care and advocated for increased spending on street medicine. The op-ed was the latest published in a series of pieces produced by M1s at Pritzker, who have made their voices heard in print locally and nationally on a host of topics since late last year.
Drawing on her own experience a s a volunteer with Chicago Street Medicine, Anna Thorndike called attention to the problem of increasing homelessness and the subsequent strain it puts on hospitals that cover the cost of ER visits for individuals experiencing homelessness and unable to pay for their treatment. In a call to action, Thorndike asserted legislators and hospitals shift resources to bring effective care to the to places unhoused individuals live.
“We cannot keep waiting for homeless numbers to skyrocket before we increase funding for homeless health care—homeless Americans already cost our health care system millions each year,” Thorndike wrote. “We must expand the reach of cost-effective homeless health care to reduce system-wide spending on this population."
Noting that homelessness in the U.S. rose in four consecutive years through 2020, Thorndike cited successful street medicine initiatives to demonstrate its viability as a means for more hospitals to reduce the significant costs they incur annually picking up the tab for patients experiencing homelessness and bring treatment to individuals who may have lost trust in the healthcare system, leading them to avoid hospital visits until an ailment has become extreme. Chicago Street Medicine is a student-led organization with chapters at the University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago, Loyola University-Chicago, and Northwestern. Teams of medical students and physicians perform "street runs" to provide treatment to homeless populations where they are and conduct research focused on issues impacting health of the homeless.
Thorndike’s piece marked the eighth op-ed by a first-year Pritzker student to be published in some format since December of 2021. Three students had op-eds published in the Chicago Tribune (on the youth mental health crisis, the FDA’s blood donation policy, and racial disparities in breast cancer mortality in Chicago), and three others had op-eds published on KevinMD.com, a website that features pieces written by medical professionals and reaches a large national audience online. Earlier this month, an abbreviated version of first-year student Meredith Hollender's piece challenging the flawed Shot Spotter technology used by police in Chicago ran as a Letter to the Editor in the Chicago Sun Times.
The wave of op-eds was no coincidence but rather the result of a new component of the required American Healthcare System course taken by first-years in the fall. This year, students were for allowed for the first time to submit an op-ed as their final writing assignment in the course, which is directed by Dr. V. Ram Krishnamoorthi and Dr. Greg W. Ruhnke. That followed an op-ed workshop presented by Dr. Shikha Jain from the University of Illinois at Chicago on an invitation from Krishnamoorthi and student leaders from the Health Policy Interest Group. The workshop inspired most students in the course to choose op-eds as the format of their final assignment, and many worked with Krishnamoorthi and others to fine tune their pieces before submitting them to be published.
"I think the fact the opportunity to write was integrated into the curriculum in the form of a (required) writing assignment and then the inspiration and training from [Jain's] workshop are showing their impact," Krishnamoorthi said.
On KevinMD, Rohan Moghe pushed for greater awareness and resources for physician mental health, a critical issue amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Michelle Verghese called out the harmful nature of travel bans in response to the Omicron variant of COVID-19. And Hassaan Asif drew on his own experience with epinephrine pens to advocate for reform in the face of exorbitant prescription drug pricing. Hollender's Chicago Sun Times piece cited data to call out the ineffectiveness and inequity of the Shot Spotter technology used to dispatch police in Chicago to the apparent site of gunshots and advocated for a new approach to dealing with violence in the city.
"In reality, ShotSpotter squanders police resources," Hollender wrote. "ShotSpotter also encourages over-policing in communities of color.
"Public health policy should drive the city’s response to gun violence."