Health Warrior: Med Student Tears Down Racial Barriers

Health Warrior: Med Student Tears Down Racial Barriers (Photo courtesy of Bernadette Lim)

COVID-19 has made it hard to ignore the divide between races when it comes to healthcare. And the rollout of the vaccine brings hope for many people, but also nervousness – trust in medicine is complicated in many communities. BIPOC practitioners and clinics are more important than ever.

YR Media spoke with medical student, 26 year-old Bernadette Lim and founder of Bay Area-based Freedom Community Clinic, an organization that provides direct whole-person care for Black, brown, and Indigenous families. For Lim, creating a place for low-income communities is important and personal. “Medicine only treats symptoms … We are inherently taught how to treat disease rather than uplift health,” says Lim. 

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Denise Tejada: What is the Freedom Community Clinic (FCC) and how did the idea come about?

Bernadette Lim: As I went into med school, I had the intention to really allow myself to develop as a healer. However, as I was growing up, I would notice that within my family many just did not trust and did not want to go to the doctor. Many of the people I know who come from immigrant communities use their own ways of medicine and their own ways of healing that have been existing for generations. And so being in the Bay Area and being in medicine and also having roots [in] community activism, Freedom Community Clinic was birthed. 

We specifically provide the whole person healing to prioritizing Black, brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities in the Bay Area. [We provide] whole-person care that integrates the strengths of Western medicine alongside the strengths of ancestral, indigenous, and traditional healing. We provide these services for free and through a sliding scale directly to spaces and places where communities gather. 

So going into the medical profession, I realized that there was really this contentious relationship between Western medicine and ancestral indigenous healing. Western medicine still does not acknowledge the historical violence that it’s inflicted upon many Black, brown, and immigrant communities. 

DT: How long has it been since you’ve founded FCC?

BL: It’s been only a year. We really expanded and blew up, especially this past June in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and realizing that there was so much political tension in the air. We wanted to affirm for our communities that part of the protest is knowing that healing is resistance and healing is justice, and that when we rest individually and collectively, that actually disrupts how these capitalist systems are trying to run our communities down. 

In June, we went to historically Black neighborhoods in Oakland and provided “Healing for Black Lives” clinics. We had over like 60 to 100 Black and brown practitioners, providing free healing services that prioritized Black and Indigenous people. We know that healing is not a one-time thing, but it’s rather a continuous offering. We’ve had amazing community support that we’ve been able to expand our programs and our healing clinics. 

DT: Why do you think people are more open and more receptive to holistic treatments than before?

BL: Medicine only treats symptoms. We’re taught in medicine where is the pain? And so we automatically have this framework of seeing a person as a diseased body. We are inherently taught how to treat disease rather than uplift health. 

I think society has framed and colonized and allowed us to think that only Western medicine was the way and has the power in our clinical health care system. But the reality is that the root causes of so many of the health issues that we face, whether that’s social inequity, emotional distress, unhappiness, relationship issues, social structural issues, those are not addressed by our medical system. And so now people are finally awakening to [the] bigger picture. And especially with the rise of COVID, we’re realizing we are being worked to death. So what happens when we are exhausted and popping a pill is not going to help. It’s really about fundamentally asking ourselves the deeper questions of: how are we taking care of ourselves and who told us that taking care of ourselves didn’t matter and how? 

DT: What do you take from FCC while going to school and learning medicine? Like how do you transfer over some of that information? 

BL: FCC has really taught me more about the realities of health. Health is not in the hospital, health does not happen within this isolated, sanitized setting. lt actually happens in the places and spaces where people live and they experience life and it’s complicated. Medicine oftentimes likes to have a clear cut answer, but the reality is that when you go and you learn from other healing practitioners, there is so much that can be stored in the body and so much that can be affected [by your] environment. That’s why medicine is failing us [and] its communities, because it hasn’t acknowledged yet that life [and] health is not a controlled setting. 

DT: How has Covid changed the way FCC approaches providing services?BL: It’s changed a lot and we try to do as many in-person events as we can, [but] we’ve switched a lot to virtual and thankfully a lot of our amazing workshops and our training have been successful. COVID has allowed us to reach a lot of folks in the capacity that we can in the best ways we can. In addition to our clinics, we have community trainings which provide free health education and empower folks to know about their bodies and know about their health and bring that knowledge to the community. So this has allowed us to reach a large audience and for a lot of people who aren’t in the Bay Area. We’ve also been able to do clinics and healing workshops online which have been helpful.

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