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Turkish Medical Association-Medical Students Branch: A communal home of medical students

İlkay Çelik

Based on the idea that another world is possible, we think of another health and, so to speak, dig positions for that ‘another’ world and health.

Promoting is always difficult, probably due to its assertion, and every action is insufficient. Especially like the Medical Students Branch (TÖK), it is an experience that includes both the heritage of the past and the originality it has built, and unlike the massive institutionalizations, it is a never-ending, ever-starting experience. Furthermore, it spreads throughout time as the construction process of “know-how” about this experience. Nevertheless, we will at least try to summarize the adventure of TÖK by going through the time with this compass.

Let us start with the identity information just in case it makes our job easier: TTB-TÖK, the Turkish Medical Association Medical Students Branch. As the name suggests, it is a student community where medical school students carry out activities under the umbrella of TTB.

Considering there are 128 medical schools, 78 of which have been opened in the last 20 years, we can expect to see a community of thousands. However, giving a “spoiler” to the following parts of the article, TÖK’s existence is not related to all these faculties but rather to the places where social opposition is concentrated rather than medical faculties. Because the TÖK organized itself as a health and student opposition movement, igniting the fire of youth with what it learned from the TTB, the Turkish social health movement, worldwide experiences, and all the anti-system movements of the Earth.

TÖK considers medicine, health, and practice as a reference point and discusses everything else around it. On the other hand, TÖK takes everything else, such as politics, philosophy, economics, ecology, history, things, and processes, as reference points; and medicine and health continue their circular movement around these points. The balance between these two schematic processes sometimes leans towards medicine and sometimes towards other social phenomena. The idea of the possibility of a health universe that is polyphonic, multicolored, non-representative, with direct and unmediated participation, liberated from labor, de-commodified, taking into account environmental problems and much more fundamental problems in the depths of the history on which environmental problems are based… I believe this health also conditions other social transformations, a holistic inversion in all areas of life.

We treat anything that impairs health as a political issue

Based on the idea that another world is possible, we think of another health and, so to speak, dig positions for that ‘another’ world and health. While we are filling our baggage for the idea of another world, our problems, like any group aiming at a left-wing societal transformation, should not be hard to guess. Everything from commodity economy to patriarchy, from contradictions between oppressed and dominant nations to environmental problems that threaten the life of living things, can be declared problematic by us because we claim to “politically address every situation that threatens human, health and nature.”

On the other hand, dark clouds are hovering over medical education, medicine, and, more specifically, good medicine, medical students’ right to education and work, human rights, and freedom of thought and expression. TÖK is the communal home of TÖK members, medical students who know how to see or feel the sun behind these dark clouds, with their white coats, are the epitome of hope and optimism of will in every square of Turkey.

We talked roughly about the identity of TÖK and how it operates. However, if we do not discuss the practical reflections of what has been said so far, we would have said so much in vain.

As medical students, while trying to pass exams with high expectations in an intense curriculum that exists in our daily routine and already being able to create a social life at a minimum level, the claim of “prioritizing public health by politically addressing every factor that affects human health” not only requires serious effort but also reminds us that “organization makes the individual stronger.” Most of the time, this is our motivation for building professional solidarity, starting from medical school.

Our primary program is discussing, bringing into question, vocalizing our thoughts, and carrying out activities on problems and policies that cause these problems, which are related to medical education, the health system, and campus life, that we are the subject of. In this program, we do not target the medical curriculum based on the white male body and health but the medical science in the mother tongue that prioritizes public health that is equal and free.

Based on the World Health Organization’s health definition – health is not just the absence of disease and infirmity but a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and with the awareness that human beings are social beings, we evaluate health together with the nature and society we live in. Hence, starting from the health system, we deal with every problem that affects nature and society and try to deal with everything that impairs health as a political issue since a person’s healthy life is a constitutional right.

Our struggle on the ground

Of course, while we ponder all this and think about “another health,” we avoid drowning in theory. However, we cannot stay away from the ground. We have learned and will learn many things from the history of TTB, which is full of struggles and achievements. The pressures on TTB in the past and present show us that “good medical values” is one of the things that governments/sovereigns fear the most, and it is more than worth defending, starting from lecture halls. Of course, in this case, the pressure and attacks on the student agenda, the health system, and the TTB do not allow us to sit down; luckily, they do not. Every time we return from the ground, we are filled with incredible energy and confidence from being organized and standing up.

Our teacher, human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı, was on trial for reminding us that chemical weapons are prohibited and should be investigated. Although the court’s verdict did not make us happy, seeing once again the crowd in the Çağlayan courthouse and how much the government is scared of the power of good medicine gives us a little relief.

Our struggle on the grounds never goes in vain. Recognition of senior medical students as interns, paying interns and providing insurance as of 2012, increasing the salary to the minimum wage level in 2022, preventing reactionary unscientific meetings in faculties by the rector’s office, removing the waiting period for six months before starting duty, paving the way for free HPV vaccines to the community, the right to leave after the shift and many victories that we did not think of… None of them are free from the results of our work on the ground. It would not be unfair if we say that the most justified criticism of our communal home, TÖK, is the limitation of its relations and communication with other teams with its widespread partnerships.

By extending a hand on the occasion of this article, we start our acquaintance with the hope of at least making a start that weakens this limitation and being able to explain itself, even if it is short; and we end with the words that the medical world knows as the name of the enormous medicine book, which means ‘let’s walk together’: Vade mecum!

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