MD alumna rallies 150 doctors in support of social justice in medical education

Dr. Crystal Zheng (‘10, MS ‘11) specializes in public health and infectious disease.

Dr. Crystal Zheng (‘10, MS ‘11) specializes in public health and infectious disease.

Dr. Crystal Zheng (‘10, MA ‘11) has been an advocate in the world of public health and infectious disease, including her comments on gun violence and its impact on patients earlier this year. After graduating from Stanford, she attended the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Recently, Dr. Zheng encountered an op-ed by a former dean at UPenn, who suggested that doctors should not be learning about issues of social justice or environmental sustainability.

Dr. Zheng saw this administrator’s statement as contrary to her beliefs about the need for a broad-based medical education, and decided to organize her medical school classmates—now all doctors—to respond. In her own words:

In the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, who happened to be the associate Dean of Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine while I was there as a medical student, argued that social justice should not be included in medical school curricula at the expense of “basic scientific knowledge.” Continuing the conversation, the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal suggested, “Maybe we should begin to wonder about the quality of the doctors who graduate from Penn.”

As one of those doctors, and as someone whose drive stems from a deep-rooted belief in the role of doctors as vehicles for social justice, I felt compelled to compose an open letter to my former dean. In the letter I ask, “How could someone with such a limited view of the scope of medicine have been responsible for determining what we learned or did not learn during medical school?” I posted the letter online with mine as the lone signature, not sure whether anyone else was going to join me.

In the end, with over 150 signatures from his former students, the letter expresses a collective voice that provides a resounding rejection of Dr. Goldfarb’s ideas. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind; you most likely aren’t alone.”

— Dr. Crystal Zheng

You can read Dr. Zheng’s open letter on Medscape, which has now accrued over 150 signatures from doctors around the country. Follow her on Twitter @CrystalZhengMD