The Civil Rights Doctor, Revisited
In this Academic Medicine piece, Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan recalls the summer of 1965, which he spent in Holmes County, Mississippi, as a medical civil rights worker. The poverty, bravery, ignorance, brotherhood, racism, hate, and love he experienced that summer led him to conclude he would become a civil rights doctor. When he returned to medical school in Chicago, the author and his classmates began organizing students around the idea of social justice. They intended to take on society’s big problems even as their medical education ignored them.
More than 50 years later, the author reflects on the sense of mission that attracts many people to medicine. A mission more than the desire to heal. A mission to recognize and address the inequities in the world and, more to the point, in access to health and health care. Medical schools have a unique role or “social mission” in that they are the only institutions that can build doctors for the future. The culture of the medical school is a powerful influence on the values of its graduates and, ultimately, the physicians of the country. The articulated, cerebrated, strategized mission that a medical school selects for itself has an enormous influence on who gets to be a doctor and what the values of that doctor are in the future, and that is why, the author argues, medical schools must incorporate social mission.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 2, 2019) – Fitzhugh Mullan, MD, a professor at the George Washington University (GW) revered for his lifelong commitment to social justice, health equity and health workforce policies, died on Nov. 29. He was 77.
Dr. Mullan was a professor of health policy and management and pediatrics at GW’s Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). He joined GW in 1996 and co-founded the GW Health Workforce Institute in 2015. In April, the institute was renamed the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity to honor Dr. Mullan’s illustrious career and legacy.