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Med Student Running For Congress Against Political Dynasty

Discussion in 'Medical Students Cafe' started by Mahmoud Abudeif, Oct 16, 2019.

  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

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    With a slogan that declares "We're done waiting," med student Solomon Rajput is hoping to unseat fellow Democrat and incumbent Debbie Dingell in Michigan's 12th congressional district next year. The Dingell family is well established in politics. John Dingell Sr was a congressional representative for 22 years, starting in 1933. He was succeeded by his son, Debbie's husband, in 1955. Debbie took over her husband's seat after his passing in 2015.

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    Although Rajput's politics do not differ tremendously from Debbie Dingell's, he feels that his focus sets him apart from her approach. He believes that issues like climate change and Medicare for All must be tackled immediately, even before he completes his medical education. We spoke with Rajput to find out exactly why he is pausing his career goals to run for office, what makes a 27-year-old medical student qualified to challenge an established political representative, and whether it is harder to run for office or go to med school.

    What made you decide to run for office while in the middle of medical school?

    The great thing about everyone asking me questions now is that the order is getting pretty predictable. "Why are you running for office?" is almost always the first question. "Why in medical school?" is always the second.

    Basically, there are some important issues that I care about as a progressive that I feel my current representative is not championing. These are really urgent issues. First off, I care about getting money out of politics. I think it's at the root of all of the disfunction and evil in our government.

    Second, as a medical student, I've seen how unfortunate our healthcare system can be when insurance is involved. I've had to witness many doctors essentially having to tell their patients, "Well, we'd love to provide this treatment for you but, unfortunately, your insurance doesn't cover it, so we're out of luck. This is the end of the road." I think that, at this point, we need to join the rest of the developed world and say we're going to make healthcare a human right. Those are two really big issues that motivated me: getting money out of politics and Medicare for All.

    So, why run for office as a medical student right now? I'm in the middle of my training. I'm about to start my third year, and then after that I'll have the residency, right? By the time I'm an independent physician, I'm looking at least 5 years, if not longer. Some issues, especially climate change, are far too urgent to wait on. So my decision was that I should take a leave from medical school to run for office.

    If you win the primary and then are elected to Congress, would you return to medicine, or have you made the choice to enter the political arena permanently?

    I would love to return to medicine at some point, but we need to see where the primary and the election go. Thankfully, my administration has been very supportive and very understanding in terms of trying to accommodate my particularly peculiar aspirations. They've said that the opportunity to come back to med school would still be possible.

    You're only 27 years old, and much of your time has been spent in education. Do you feel like there's something about the education that you've received that qualifies you to hold a congressional seat?

    That's a great question. I think something that I learned through my medical education is to be very conscientious of why we recommend a solution.

    In medical school, you need to think about treatment options and what will ultimately solve the problem in the best way. Looking at politics right now, I see these huge issues and then several possible supposed "treatments" or solutions. Which of these are actually going to address the problem and "cure the illness" right now, whether it's the insane cost of college tuition, that people are paying so much money to health insurance companies, or that climate change is happening? Medical school has helped me think through how to come to a specific, evidence-based solution. That's how I'm approaching politics as well.

    Staying specific to healthcare, your opponent in the primary, Debbie Dingle, is also in favor of Medicare for All. In fact, I believe she founded a caucus for it at some point. What makes you different from her in terms of healthcare policy?

    Let me be the first one to say that I really appreciate that Debbie Dingle has taken up an overall Medicare for All stand. I think that's really great. Unfortunately, with our representatives, including Congresswoman Dingle, you don't actually know where she stands. Elected officials often keep things a little vague.

    I support a system where everyone is guaranteed healthcare through the government. I don't believe that private insurance companies should profit off of people's illnesses. That should not be part of the system. I think we should join our peer countries in the developed world to guarantee healthcare by saying that everyone will pay into a government program for healthcare, and that will be called Medicare for All.

    Sometimes representatives say "Medicare for All" when they actually mean a private insurance and a public option hybrid. Or they'll say they want to augment private insurance by providing public funds. I think, right now, it's a little unclear where Debbie Dingle actually stands on that, but I'm very clear where I stand.

    Do you feel like there is any sort of consensus among young medical professionals?

    I think many, many people support Medicare for All. Many people go into medicine, as I did, idealistically, trying to help people take care of patients in vulnerable moments. To go up against the system and see our attendings be so burned out and dissatisfied with the current system really affects our perception of the medical field.

    Doctors will tell you all the time how documentation has gotten to be so onerous and how they're spending less and less time with their patients because they have to do more and more work to comply with insurance. I think that many of us are seeing the realities of the system that we are frustrated with, and a lot of people, especially medical students, think that Medicare for All is the way we need to go.

    You also actively support the Green New Deal. Does that have anything to do with your medical background?

    When we think about health, there is the medical management that we learn about in medical school. There is also a public health component. In regard to climate change, what we know is that a destabilized climate means many more natural disasters, wildfires, drought, and crop shortages. Health is going to be one of the first things affected. We're already seeing that. When there is widespread disaster, not only are people dying, but the people who are able to withstand these crises the least are the ones who are most vulnerable.

    When I was thinking about whether I should run, and the implications of letting climate change go unmitigated, I thought, I can go and be a doctor and take care of my patients, and that's great. That would be doing a great service for other people. But if we're not focused on treating the root cause of an issue that is going to be exacerbating health problems throughout the world, then are we just trying to triage the problem? As doctors, are we going to help people at the last possible minute, when there are these issues that are causing them to be unhealthy to begin with?

    Your campaign slogan is "We're done waiting." Do you think this is a common feeling among med students right now?

    What is definitely a common feeling among med students is how frustrated they are with the expense of their medical education. So many people base their residency choices off of what they believe will make it easier for them to pay back their student loans.

    I'm in over six digits of student debt in 2 years. Many of my friends are from out of state and are looking at even higher education bills. That is something that is on everyone's mind all the time as medical students.

    I believe we need tuition-free college education. Some may say that this is a radical stance, but I think that we need to recognize that we are a very wealthy country. We have resources available to us if we choose to use them. If corporations pay their fair share and if the wealthiest among us pay their fair share, there is plenty of money to invest in our education.

    Look, I would love to not be running for office right now. I would love for my representative to be championing these issues. Unfortunately, she's been lobbied for a long, long time. I would love to have a representative who I can trust to be an advocate for the issues that I care about. But if someone else is not going to be a champion, then I will.

    You do have a fair bit of political experience, despite your young age.

    I actually have a lot of political experience. I was an organizer on Hillary Clinton's campaign for the general election. After that, I was part of a group that created an organization called Michigan Resistance, which has been one of the most active grassroots activist organizations in our state. Our group has made tens of thousands of calls to our state capitol to stop bad bills in our state legislature. We have helped stop over a dozen pieces of legislation, which has been really exciting.

    But at this point, we need to do a lot more than resist. We need to be going out there and fighting for our vision for what we want this country to look like. I would love for someone else to do it, but if my representative isn't, then I feel like I have to go out there and do it myself.

    Medical students often are very concerned about how they are perceived by their peers and others. This may keep them from being more politically vocal. Do you feel as though medical students have a responsibility to be more politically involved?

    From the start of medical school to the end of residency is 7 years, minimum. There are a lot of things that are happening in our world right now, especially climate change, that we feel like we want to act on. But it's challenging because we're locked away for almost a decade, working very, very long hours. We feel like we don't have the bandwidth to take on something else. But I think everyone has a responsibility to be more politically involved at this point, medical students included. If you're a human, you need to be politically involved. The issues are way too huge for you not to be, at this point.

    I was talking to a friend of mine about this. She looked at me and said, "At one point, we will all have to run. It's going to get that crazy." I think that we are getting to a place where more and more newcomers are running because they're not seeing the government reflect anything that they stand for. I think that for medical professionals and medical students, it can be challenging with our time restrictions. But whether you're a doctor, whether you're a medical student, if you're frustrated with things, you should go out there and try to change them. A small amount of people can make a really big change.

    So, what's harder: running for elected office or going through medical school?

    Definitely running for office—100%. In medical school, there is a lot of work but it is very clear what is necessary in order to make it. There's not much ambiguity. Running for office is completely different. There are a million possible ways you could go. We know that most people who start medical school will ultimately finish and become doctors, which is great. The challenge with running for office is that you often don't know many other people who have done it. There aren't many people you can ask about it. And you don't know if you're going to succeed. In fact, you know you're probably not going to succeed. That's what makes it seem a lot more insurmountable.

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