The Latin roots of the word “advocacy” stems from “to voice” or “to call to.” The practice of medicine is often referred to as a calling. Doctors are called to serve society. We spend most of our time advocating for patients’ needs. But it wasn’t until the pandemic that I realized my stethoscope could actually be a microphone for my voice.
Misinformation was taking over people’s decisions to stay home, mask, social distance and get vaccinated. It was literally killing people. One patient refused to get vaccinated because she believed that it was a government tracking device. She contracted COVID-19, and she, her sister and son all died. In my gut, I felt a moral responsibility to dispel myths on COVID-19. People were being manipulated by false information. It was a strong calling that kept me sleepless at night, seeing the faces of my patients who died alone on the COVID wards.
I began on social media by hosting COVID-19 town halls, joining an advocacy group called This is our Shot and writing op eds. After exhausting hospital shifts, I was everywhere and anywhere that I could be an advocate for keeping people safe through the pandemic, whether it be television, radio or social media. My energy fuelled me through the post-traumatic stress and fatigue of being a healthcare worker in a pandemic, knowing if I could save one life, it was worth it
COVID-19 has taught me that I have a moral responsibility to use my voice. In addition to advocating for care against COVID-19, I’m now advocating for physician burnout, physician gender pay inequality, the rise in alcohol consumption, health disparities, and mental health.
The truth is, once you catch the advocacy bug, you can’t turn your back on it. Your moral responsibility becomes addicting and for me, it’s become my mission, my existence, my purpose.
Being a Landecker Democracy fellow has helped open my eyes to so many issues I wasn’t aware of related to health. I now look at everything through the lens of advocacy: the refugee crisis, environmental justice, marginalized groups, racism and homelessness. All of these issues require a health expert advocate and who better than the most trusted messenger, a doctor.
The doctor has the privilege to listen to hearts, open them and repair them. The mere act of auscultation with a stethoscope is a skill that we are trained to listen, then diagnose and treat. Advocacy is the same. Listening to the issues, digesting them and then treating the problem, whether it be through raising awareness through podcasts, television appearances or op eds, protesting at rallies, signing petitions or actively working for solutions such as advising senators on misinformation legislation.
Now, when putting on the white coat, I recognize that medicine is a calling for advocacy. I have sutured the practice of medicine with a voice to shape the public debate on important social issues. My stethoscope is my microphone, and I’ll continue to use my profession as a doctor to help all people live the happiest and healthiest lives they deserve.
Asha Shajahan, MD, MHSA is a Landecker Democracy Fellow and community health advocate. She's written several Op-Eds in national publications, had television appearances and public speaking engagements on health advocacy. Most recently. She is involved in health advocacy around Covid-19, misinformation and health disparities, particularly for the vulnerable. She’s an award-winning podcast host, a doctor, a professor, a caregiver, and activist in all things health.
Check her out at drshajahan.com and on Instagram @drashas.
The Landecker Democracy Fellowship strengthens democratic values and communities. The program in collaboration with Humanity in Action supports emerging activists, community leaders and young professionals to turn innovative ideas into tangible solutions.