Paul Farmer Urges Phillips Academy Students to Put Their Educations into Action at ASM Wednesday

Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist, doctor and author, challenged students to think about fundamental human rights at this week’s All-School Meeting. Farmer’s visit coincided with Wellness Week so he could talk about the right to health care. Farmer’s non-profit health-care organization, Partners in Health, has provided critical healthcare services to the sick, particularly in poor developing countries. Farmer shared a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. in his presentation: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” “This [issue] is so important,” Farmer said. “How can we think about delivering health care equitably?” “You need a system [for health care]. How are you going to say to world leaders that healthcare is a right? It’s not that easy. You’ve got to have a strategy that works to say that healthcare is a right,” said Farmer. Farmer referenced his work with world leaders on the topic of health care rights. “We don’t confer rights. We can be part of a movement, but the government confers rights,” he said. Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, brought Farmer to Phillips Academy with the help of Partners in Health. Hoyt wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I thought that during Wellness Week, [Farmer] could provide a valuable perspective on health concerns for those less fortunate than we are.” Hoyt added that Farmer’s “work is the epitome of ‘non sibi.’” Last year’s Wellness Week programming included workshops run by Partners in Health staff members. According to Hoyt, this relationship developed over the year and facilitated Farmer’s visit. Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Dr. Farmer challenged Phillips Academy students to commit themselves to social justice and basic human rights. I believe his message was consonant with that of Fuess Award recipient Bill Drayton,” founder of the Ashoka Foundation, a social entrepreneurship organization. Farmer’s discussion of the impact of public health decisions on the economic stability of a country also ties into this year’s CAMD theme of socioeconomic class. Farmer said, “It never occurred to me growing up in Florida that people everywhere didn’t have that right [to go to school]. The context in which you all find yourselves is really important.” Toward the end of his presentation, Farmer connected his work to the United States healthcare system, in particular, the debate over universal healthcare. “This community health corporate model can be in the United States,” he said. “If I were running the United States, I would create jobs in healthcare,” he said. Farmer concluded by telling students to think about all the paradigms that can help move society forward, such as those based on human rights or economics. Farmer also attended a brunch with a number of students and faculty members on Wednesday morning. The brunch functioned as a question and answer session, with students asking questions like, “Is there something you wish you could do better?” and “How do you balance home and work?” According to Lily Schaffer ’10, all of the students at the brunch were familiar with Farmer’s work. “When you know about his phenomenal work, what he’s saying is really amazing,” she said. However, Schaffer said she was “underwhelmed by his performance [at ASM]. If you’re not informed about his work, you wonder why he’s here. He’s not known for his speaking; he’s known for his work. He didn’t say much.” Gabbie Cirelli ’12 said, “I thought he had a lot of interesting points, but his delivery could have been better.” Amber Quinones ’11 said, “I feel like it didn’t relate much [to Wellness Week]. It was about healthcare but not about our own personal wellness.”