Dr. Paul Farmer Speaks on Equity in Healthcare

April 27, 2017

Provost Katie Conboy with Dr. Paul Farmer

Leading figure in global health addresses students on equity, social justice, and leadership

Dr. Paul Farmer has traveled all over the world, bringing healthcare and humanitarian aid to some of the poorest, most under-served rural communities. Through his books and speaking engagements, he is a leading voice for equity in global health and human rights. He holds prestigious positions at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Farmer is even a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the U.N. on Community-Based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti. 

At his visit to Simmons as part of the Friars Leaders Program series, he announced another honor he can add to his list: “Everyone at Simmons loves me.”

Dr. Farmer joined Provost Katie Conboy in front of hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae/i, both in person and watching through a livestream, to share his life story and thoughts on the state of equity in global health care. Through their discussion, Dr. Farmer explained that teamwork and an unrelenting focus on equity and social justice have been the keys to his success. 

He also noted that Simmons, with its commitment to leadership and social justice, is primed to be at the cutting edge of training the next generation of healthcare leaders. “Simmons is picking up on the most important lesson of 19th and 20th century medicine: it should be public health and equity. We need to ask ourselves, ‘When are we not thinking about equity?’”

Dr. Farmer advised students to pay attention to lessons from mentors and colleagues, and recognize that finding one’s purpose and success doesn’t have to come fast. He drew from his own experience as a student who knew he wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t really know why. “I’m glad no one asked me why I wanted to be a doctor. I think I had to grow into it.” He also said it’s okay if you make a decision that doesn’t turn out right the first time – “Try on new concepts and language, even if it takes a decade to get it right.”

He closed the event answering questions from the audience, both live and online, about women’s role in global health leadership. He pointed out that most of the clinicians in his organization are women, but there is still a lot of work that is necessary to ensure that women are given fair opportunities to rise into leadership positions.

Paul Farmer with Shayna Friars Hasset '17 Dr. Paul Farmer

(Top: Provost Katie Conboy and Dr. Paul Farmer. Left: Dr. Farmer with Shayna Friars Hasset '17. Right: Dr. Farmer with new Simmons gear after his talk.)