In the past few weeks, I have illustrated how trust (or lack thereof) shapes the relationship between individuals and healthcare, and how mistrust is historically justified. In this last segment, I want to talk about potential solutions from a social justice standpoint.
Trust is often cited in public health from the angle of paternalism, something that public health is often associated with. When we think of optimal paternalism – using scientific knowledge to influence the health decisions of the general public – we ask ourselves: are we abusing trust, or using it for good?
Public health, while sometimes paternalistic, already stresses to its students the importance of working with oppressed communities as equals to identify and solve problems. Medicine needs to catch up. Many medical students already participate in racial and cultural training, but they need to be trained from a structural angle – to gain an understanding of oppression and policy – too.
We need to support training for healthcare providers that doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff. Hands-on learning, such as tactful poverty simulations, can help. This will allow them to understand things like how the cycle of poverty makes some patients less talkative with authority figures (such as doctors) than others. We need to support minority students in medicine, so that patients can see representation of themselves and feel understood. We need to provide incentives for students to stay in their own communities for residencies. Of course, broad class mobility-enabling policy is the ultimate solution.
Many times, our work seeks to increase trust, but that puts the burden on the patient instead of addressing the reasons behind mistrust. Teaching trust in and of itself is a paternalistic objective: we should instead focus on deserving it.