As she pursues her dream of becoming a physician, the oath she recited with her classmates at their White Coat Ceremony in 2020 is something that Victoria Addis has never forgotten.
One line in particular has always stuck with her – “I will recognize my responsibility to my patients and to society to promote a more just world.”
Over the last year, those words have fueled Addis as she and other leaders of the student chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) at WMed have worked to increase awareness of human trafficking and give students and others the tools they need to provide help to victims of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking, essentially, is slavery, whether it be labor or sex trafficking,” said Addis, a Hillsdale College alumna who is entering her third year at the medical school. “We as medical providers may come into contact with victims of human trafficking and we need to be able to recognize it and intervene because we could save a life.”
Addis has served as president of the AMWA student chapter at WMed for the last 14 months and during that time she and other student leaders within AMWA, including M2s Christine Hua and Seyjil Turpin, have looked for ways to expand training for students and integrate the topic of human trafficking into the MD curriculum more broadly.
In November, the students hosted a two-part event about human trafficking in health care that consisted of a panel of guest speakers, including Rita O’Brien from the Kalamazoo Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, Dr. Jan Werbinski, immediate past president of AMWA’s national chapter and a clinical associate professor emerita in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Dr. Joshua Mastenbrook, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. The event also included three separate exercises in the medical school’s Simulation Center to prepare and help students recognize cases of human trafficking.
Addis said 70 people – in-person and virtual – attended the panel discussion in November. Meanwhile, five students participated in the simulated exercises, which consisted of three 10-minute cases that sought to help students identify human trafficking cases and learn techniques to separate victims from their traffickers, and then analyze and improve their performance.
“It’s important for us as students to put ourselves into these situations where we can practice and play out how we would respond,” Addis said. “We want to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and learn how to handle these cases with the respect and dignity that these victims deserve. It’s all about having the opportunity to experience it in a simulated environment before we experience it in the real world.”
The exercises in November became the subject of a research poster – “The Need to Include Human Trafficking Simulations in the Medical School Curriculum” – that Addis got the opportunity to present on a national level during the AMWA Annual Meeting that held virtually in late March. Addis, Hua, Turpin, and Dr. Werbinski were each listed as co-authors on the poster.
“I’ve always wanted to help people and we sign an oath going into medical school to help the most vulnerable,” Addis said. “This is a patient population that I think is easy to push under the rug and that kind of frustrates me. It’s a life-or-death situation and it’s happening in our backyard. The opportunity to present our findings at the AMWA national meeting was almost surreal and it showed that others see the importance of this work and the necessity to make it part of learners’ time in medical school.”
Dr. Werbinski said she is proud of the work done by Addis, Hua, and Turpin to raise awareness about human trafficking at WMed and nationally.
“I agree with Victoria that we don’t pay enough attention to human trafficking,” Dr. Werbinski said. “I think it’s important for students to get exposure to this issue and other issues that they are likely to come across once they’re practicing medicine. It is not enough for schools to incorporate education only on human trafficking. These students have creatively fashioned educational venues which utilize simulation, and can become a prototype for a way to incorporate many other concepts which might not 'fit' into the standard curriculum, but which will present in their clinical practices.”
As she prepares for year three of medical school, Addis plans to continue her advocacy for human trafficking awareness in health care and her work at WMed recently led to her being named as the new advocacy chair of the national AMWA-PATH (Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans) student group, a role she will officially begin in May.
Addis said she is looking forward to her new role and the opportunity to address human trafficking on a national level with AMWA. Her time as president of the student chapter of AMWA at WMed will conclude as she begins her M3 year but she said she wants to continue working closely with the student group. She said she is also excited that the new student leaders of AMWA plan to continue to focus on human trafficking awareness and will host more panel discussions and simulations about the topic.
“It’s all about advocating for the victims of human trafficking and I’m really excited to work with everyone to continue furthering this work,” Addis said. “No matter where I go I want to keep incorporating human trafficking awareness into the system I’m working in … I recited our oath and I truly stand by what it says, which is why I am so passionate about bringing about awareness of human trafficking and learning how the medical profession can recognize and intervene.”