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Medical Students Rally for Justice

Single payer movement gains ground across the generations
By Anna Zelivianskaia

It is easy to get caught up in pathology slides, preparing for long surgical cases, and residency applications while in medical school. But some subjects cut through the long list of responsibilities and unite medical students across all class years and regional boundaries. This was demonstrated last Oct. 1 when students from more than 30 medical schools nationwide gathered to advocate for a single payer health care system.

The day was planned by the student section of Physicians for a National Health Program, and known as “Medicare-for-All National Day of Action.” Each participating city held a rally and candlelight vigil to raise awareness about problems in our medical system. Students also used the hashtag #TenOne symbolizing Oct. 1 as a day to connect with one another on social media and to increase their collaboration.

Marching to Humana

Locally, medical students from the University of Chicago, Rush Medical College, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Midwestern University gathered downtown and marched to the Humana Health Insurance building. The march drew a lot of attention from onlookers as students waved signs and chanted colorful phrases such as, “What do we do when our health care is under attack? Stand up! Fight back!” and “Everybody in! Nobody out!” to convey the message of expanding Medicare coverage to all Americans.

The rally took place outside the doors of Humana, with several speeches that memorably highlighted the flaws of an insurance-driven system and what we can do about it. Linda Liu, a second-year medical student at the U of C, addressed the crowd, comparing her experience of living in Canada with her time in the United States as a medical student.

“Canadians are incredibly proud of their health care system… to those who say Canadians ‘ration’ health care: we also ration health care in the United States. However, here we ration based on socioeconomic status and ability to pay. If you do not have health insurance or out-of-pocket money to pay for care, then you do not receive the care that you need.”

Rationing U.S. Style

American lives lost due to this type of “rationing” was the evening’s central theme. It is no secret that many patients without health insurance delay care, waiting for long periods before going to the hospital when they are sick for fear of the financial consequences. They come in much sicker and this cycle taxes them personally and the system as a whole. Furthermore, many patients with health insurance incur huge medical expenses for broken bones and other emergencies that set them back financially. Medical students who spoke about this noted that even people who work in the health care system are afraid of using it as a consumer.

On the legislative side, several speakers gave advocacy updates. Participants learned of single payer bills introduced in various states, including Illinois, over the years. Slowly, the single payer movement is gaining ground across all generations.

Making a Difference

A candlelight vigil followed the rally, with participants observing 33 moments, or seconds of silence, to honor the 33 million Americans who remain uninsured. As the sun set, a sense of solidarity and inspiration filled the air. In our daily lives as students, we see insurance companies profiting from patients much more often than we see people advocating for a better system. It is easy to feel discouraged and alone in this setting. But watching students across the country unite and draw the support of the general public, right on the street, demonstrate that more and more people support change.

The U of C’s Linda Liu summarizes the pervasive hopefulness of our generation: “When I first moved here from Canada, I remember feeling incredibly confused when so many people told me they thought single payer was a great idea, but that it would never happen in the United States. Fifty years ago, people would have also thought it was impossible to elect a black president, or that it was impossible to achieve marriage equality. And yet that has all changed. I refuse to give in to disillusionment, to the belief we cannot achieve equitable, affordable health care for all Americans.”

Medicine is a politically charged field and we can heal more patients by healing the health care system. We will continue fighting for this just cause.

Anna Zelivianskaia is fourth-year medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Anyone with comments about this article may reach her at

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