Interview with Emily Kirchner
What year are you at Temple?
I’m about to graduate! (Fourth year)
Why did you go to medical school?
I decided I wanted to be a doctor when I was in the sixth grade and I never changed my mind. Early on, the medical ambition was about intelligence and prestige. But now my decision to pursue a career in primary care is a lot more about using my skills and experiences to build bridges with people.
Why did you apply to the bioethics program?
I had been interested in public health dual-degree programs when I was applying to medical school, but I was excited about what Temple’s urban bioethics program was about. I talked to Nora Jones early in first year and felt like I had found my people. The MAUB program has fed the part of my brain (and soul) that enjoys reading and talking and discussing. More than any other class, the sociological and historical dimensions of medical decisions are foregrounded.
What is your hometown?
I grew up in Beaver, PA, a small town west of Pittsburgh. Everyone knows everyone.
What is your favorite Philly restaurant?
Depends! Most of my time in Philadelphia has been in West Philly, so I love the Flammenkueche pizza at Dock Street and Abyssinia for Ethiopian food. But in Center City — Barbuzzo! I feel very strongly that cheesesteaks are not that great and that roast pork sandwiches are better and my favorite place for this regional delicacy is John’s Roast Pork.
Where do you like to study?
I call the Green Line on 40th and Sansom “my office.” But when I studied at Temple, I worked with fellow MAUB student Dani Baurer and our friend Mica Winchester, who are “my med school best friends” on the second floor overlooking the MERB lobby.
What do you like to do when you are not studying?
I read, I drink beer, I have a garden in my backyard, I try to get my friends to play quizzo with me. I like walking around new neighborhoods and wasting time in thrift stores.
What have you learned about yourself while studying bioethics?
My judgments surprise me.
What is your favorite/most meaningful class and why?
Ever? I studied history at Bryn Mawr and I loved my History of Bryn Mawr class. Broadly, we talked about the history of higher education — including Quaker colleges and women’s access to higher ed. I remember that the class did not back away from addressing the racism and anti-Semitism and classism that was a part of the founding and continues today.
I think the funniest thing I learned was about the dating practices of some Bryn Mawr women in the fifties. Bryn Mawr was a pretty elite place back then and Haverford, though a mile away, didn’t become the respected liberal arts school until much more recently. So an alumna who came to speak to the class told us that there was a common poem:
“This weekend it’s Harvard, and the next it’s Yale.
And if you’re really desperate, there’s a Haverford male.”
The class I probably think about the most was Civil War and Memory, which wasn’t so much about battle happened here, this many people died. It was about how Americans place layers of meaning on the Civil War. You know, “The War of Northern Aggression” and emphasizing states’ rights over slavery as a cause of secession, those kinds of things. Anyways, the class was about these layers of meanings we place over the Civil War and how they continue to affect how we feel about America, about race, about political divides. I sort of went into it thinking that I was immune because I had been raised and publicly educated in the North. But I discovered I had this framing of Reconstruction as a failure, when now I think about it as this moment of possibility that was ruined with the beginning of Jim Crow. And our professor made us stop saying “The South” as this monolithic thing, because of course that obscures many communities, but in particular it erases Black experiences and opinions about what was going on.
Do you have any pets?
Only pests. I guard my backyard garden against possums and raccoons.
Where did you match?
Lancaster Family Medicine!
I did my third year ob-gyn rotation at Lancaster. One night on night float, a patient was admitted for an urgent c-section. It was going to be the first one I experienced as a medical student. While the OR was being prepared, I stood beside the patient and chatted. She asked me if this c-section would be my first one. I thought she was worried that I was a student interfering in her care and I joked that it would be my second, because technically I had seen one before, but I was being born at the time and I didn’t remember much. Her expression became very serious and I thought I had upset her. But she was actually hoping it was my first one! She wanted this one to be special for me so I would remember her and remember her baby forever.
I haven’t forgotten! I’m thrilled to go back to Lancaster and I hope I get to meet mom and baby again!
What was your favorite rotation?
I did a family medicine elective at the Northern Navajo Medical Center, an Indian Health Service hospital in Shiprock, New Mexico.
Tell us about your thesis.
Well it’s called Presumptive Fertility and Fetoconsciousness: The Ideological Formation of ‘The Female Patient of Reproductive Age.’ And what I’m talking about is this idea of fetoconsciousness, our preoccupation with the fetus and hypothetical, not-yet-conceived fetus and how it makes us treat female patients of reproductive age in a way that removes them entirely from their social context and their goals and needs for their reproductive health. And this long standing idea of women’s primary role as mothers is so powerful that in 2017 — we have Roe, we have effective birth control and long acting reversible contraception, LGBTQ care is now a part of medical education, many American women are delaying or forgoing childbearing, despite all of this, medical institutions are still treating female patients of reproductive age with this idea that they could be mothers and if they could, certain things need to be done to protect the fetus.
So the thesis is about where this comes from, from a medical history perspective, and what it looks like, using experiences I’ve had as a medical student and a patient. There’s some ethical analysis and some suggestions about an alternative ethical model for maternal fetal decisions.
What non-medical literature do you like to read?
Sarah Vowell is one of my favorite authors and my favorite by her is probably Assassination Vacation. Her books are histories, but with contemporary politics and social observations thrown in with connections drawn between past and present. A bit of a historical spit chain.
Next up on my pile is The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Throughout med school, I’ve been in a few book clubs with my church, Calvary United Methodist, and the Alternative Seminary, an ecumenical/progressive group of people of faith in Philly. So I read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow with my church family — a group made up of different ages, races, class backgrounds, regional experiences. I really loved reading Flannery O’Connor’s short stories with The Alternative Seminary. The class ranged in age from 16 to mid 70s. So when we shared our personal histories experiencing and perpetuating racism, there were generations of experiences.
Are you currently binge-watching anything?/What was the last show you binge-watched?
I truly binged The Queen on Netflix, but right now I’m getting through Season Six of Call the Midwife.
What is an aspect of healthcare most concerned about?
The health care system is profit motivated. The insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies have created a system that is excellent at generating profits for their shareholders and crappy at delivering the care people need and deserve. Health care is a human right.
I’ve spent a lot of my spare time working with Students for a National Health Program, the student arm of Physicians for a National Health Program. I can give all sorts of arguments and statistics about why single payer health care makes financial sense for the country, for hospitals like Temple, for physicians. But really it comes down to caring for people and treating everyone with dignity and respect.
What makes you laugh?