Columbia University Medical Center

P&S Student Ashley White-Stern on Activism and Community Engagement

Until a few years ago, College of Physicians & Surgeons student, Ashley White-Stern (Class of 2018), didn’t envision herself going to medical school. Despite having two parents who are physicians, she was drawn to the humanities in college and graduate school. Before enrolling at P&S, she worked for a nonprofit educational organization, did fundraising for Human Rights Watch, earned an MA degree in film studies, and enjoyed a two-year stint in the food and hospitality industry. Throughout this period of her life, Ms. White-Stern found time to reflect on her experiences through two blogs she authored.

So what does all of this have to do with being a doctor?

A lot, as it turns out.

“The common threads for me have been the exploration of each person’s humanness, not making an assumption about someone based on their appearance or background,” says Ms. White-Stern. “I’m always wonderfully surprised what someone will reveal if you pull back from making these assumptions or trying to categorize someone. I’m very hopeful about applying these skills to medicine, so that when a patient comes to see me I will get to know the patient as an individual, to see how I can best help him or her.”

Naturally drawn toward activism, Ms. White-Stern gradually became involved in the Black and Latino Student Organization (BALSO) at P&S and with White Coats for Black Lives, a national student organization that looks to eliminate racism in the field of medicine.

“From early on, I had a pretty strong interest in activism and engagement with the world around me,” says Ms. White-Stern. “Joining BALSO afforded me the opportunity to give back to my fellow students and, more broadly, to the entire CUMC community. But in addition to giving to others, BALSO rewarded me with this incredible community of peers who are committed to helping each other throughout med school and working toward the same goals.”

This past fall, Ms. White-Stern’s involvement with BALSO and White Coats for Black Lives earned her the Medical Student Diversity Award, presented during the Kenneth A. Forde Diversity Alliance Awards reception.

Ms. White-Stern gives back to her peers in other important ways, as well. She is involved in shaping the direction of medical education at Columbia as a curricular representative and helps develop review materials for biochemistry as part of the Student Success Network (SSN). She also finds time to hone basic skills, such as suturing and intravenous line placement, through her involvement in the Emergency Medicine Interest Group.

“Being a curricular rep and participating in SSN fulfills my longtime interest in education, while taking part in the Emergency Medicine Interest Group is the other end of the spectrum, giving me a chance to take a hands-on approach to learning,” she says.

Despite her busy schedule, she hopes to fit in some time to reflect on her experiences with a blog about her first days in clinical medicine as she begins her Major Clinical Year this year.

“I think it would be great to blog about my major clinical year,” says Ms. White-Stern. “A lot of things come up during writing—it’s a wonderful process of self-discovery—and will help me continue to think about what I hope to accomplish one day as a physician.”