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Spotlight: Martin Luther King Jr. Day thoughts: What does MLK Day mean to you?

Briaunna Minor, G3Minor

In these times, our praise of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr tends to muffle his call to act with haste against the racism and white supremacy crafted into the foundations of American business infrastructure, government, and society. I often wonder if his sacrifice was not the only cost for this holiday to be as it is. I wonder, if in exchange for federal holiday in his honor, we have cost ourselves the opportunity to hear him—to hear his warnings of an America that chooses a gilded existence, golden and just in theory, suppressive in practice. I wonder...

I wonder what medical training and practice would be like now if we had the collective sensitivities required to heed to these words sooner: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.” Dr. King said these words March 25, 1966 preceding the annual meeting of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. 

On today, I am amazed at how little I knew about the minister’s comprehensive approach to making America a more just and humane society. I’ve known him as the voting rights activist, the anti-segregationist, the anti-war, non-violent preacher of radical thought and civil disobedience. He lent himself, so thoroughly, to the rooting out of discrimination and white supremacy in the varied facets of American life. The man we laud for marching in the south was, in fact, a nation man, campaigning all over this country against racism in hospitals and health care systems. His call to action then, is not unlike our contemporary rallying cry for equitable anti-racist medical practice.

Dr. King, as trainees, as clinicians, as administrators and scientist, as personnel deemed essential to the well being of a nation, may we hear you now. May we seek your words. And as we raise our collective consciousness, may we actualize the justice known to you in your dreams and rid our health care of the inequities most familiar to you as you walked among us."

Scott Friedland, PhD, M4Friedland

"An opportunity to reflect on the privilege I have, and how I can harness it to impact health care disparities. A day to consider on the value of standing up to amoral societal structures."

Alison Livada, G1Livada

"I think MLK Day is a really complicated day. On one hand, I feel inspired by Dr. King's commitment to creating equality for African Americans through nonviolent resistance. Yet on this day it's impossible not to also remember his tragic murder, the hateful resistance that he battled, as well as the racism that still resides in our country today. With that, I try to use this day to reflect on the work that we all need to engage in to uphold and build upon Dr. King's legacy."

Student Perspectives 

SportielloMike Sportiello, G2

What are some of the reasons you chose Rochester?
"I chose Rochester because it has high impact research, and though that's true, it's not the full story. The truth is that people here are as excited to share their research with you as they are to have a beer with you. They're as inquisitive about your research as they are about your personal life. They're just good people, and I wanted to be a part of that learning environment."

ZhangVictor Zhang, M2

What are some of the reasons you chose Rochester?
"I went to UR for my undergraduate studies, so when it came time for me to decide on coming back for the MSTP program, I was able to draw on my familiarity with the school, the city, and also the research and faculty in my department. I was happy to come back because I enjoyed the environment and student community that I had experienced during my time here as an undergrad ... I also had some faculty members whose research I was very interested in."

What is your favorite memory from your time in the UR MSTP?
"I am still in the early stages of my training as an MSTP, but one of the most memorable things for me was my first week in the program that included the annual MSTP retreat. During that week I met all of the other members of my cohort and we became very close very quickly which really cemented the strong sense of community that I was hoping for."

AnkitAnkit Dahal, G1, IMV

What are some of the reasons you chose Rochester?
"The supportive and nurturing community from the administrators down to the students!"

How would you describe the Rochester community?
"Supportive, approachable, helpful. It is very easy to approach faculty members and many go out of their way to support and mentor you."

How have you been able to embrace or express the unique characteristics of your personality while at Rochester? 
"There are so many unique groups and organizations in Rochester, both on campus and in the city. Community outreach has always been important to me, and I have been able to tutor refugee kids from the area every Saturday on campus and work with kids interested in science to compete in science fairs. I am also thinking about joining an improv acting group in Rochester once the city opens back up!"

pizzarelloCatherine Pizzarello, G3, IMV

How did you know your current lab is the right fit for you?
"My PI and I get along very well. She is understanding of my work/life balance needs since I have a family. Her research focus is in pediatrics, which fit my desire to go into pediatrics, but mostly I chose the lab for its environment. I never really feel unreasonably stressed out or pressured. I also feel heard, understood, and respected. My PI also provides me with plenty of opportunities to attend conferences and present my research."

What is the most interesting thing about your research project?
"[The most interesting thing about my research project is that I have] access to human samples (breast milk, infant stool, blood, etc.) that I can form research questions around (ex. immunophenotyping infants, examining effects of breast milk and infant microbiome on intestinal immunity, etc.)."

Any advice for aspiring physician-scientists?
"Hang in there haha"

ScottScott Friedland, PhD, M4, Genetics

What are some of the reasons you chose Rochester?
"I went to Rochester for undergrad and, wanting to explore new areas, didn't think I would stay. However, when I was done interviewing, I realized that the place I felt I would be most taken care of was Rochester. Medical school and grad school are hard enough; there's no need to be in an environment that isn't warm, collaborative, and collegiate."

What is your favorite program sponsored event?
"We haven't done one in a while, but back in the day we used to go paintballing, and almost the whole program showed up. It was fantastic (and painful)! Also, I had no clue how much fun curling was before going with the program."

What extra opportunities have you received through Rochester that helped you develop professionally?
"That list is long. But some highlights include many opportunities to travel regionally and nationally to engage with other present and future physician scientists. As well as conferences to expand knowledge and skills as a cancer biologist and geneticist."

Any advice for aspiring physician-scientists?
"DO NOT PICK 'A LAB'!! Pick mentors you want to emulate and learn from, then work backwards to find a lab ... bad mentor-mentee relationships [can] turn you away from science, [whereas] good ones catapult careers."