Some time ago I sought input on this forum on starting atheist groups for students in medical professions (medical, nursing, pharmacy, etc. students).  People on this forum and elsewhere in the medical community agreed that there was definitely a need to have an official student org presence counterbalancing the religious groups that are often part of life in these programs; at the same time there are reasons it would be difficult to do.  Those reasons are:


  1) the reason we all would give, i.e. who would have adequate time to dedicate to it;


  2) it's really a fairly small niche, and do we need a full student org for medical atheists?


  3) there are enough damn atheist groups already without splitting out another three-member group on campuses that probably already have a decent one.  At the same time, medical professions students often have very little contact with other types of students at their institutions, so without such an organization they may never get in contact with local atheist groups.


POSSIBLE SOLUTION:  develop an International Medical Atheists Coalition as just a front-end "brand".  The whole idea would be to reach out to incoming students at the start of the year (serve coffee and bagels the first day of classes), and funnel them into the main campus (or other pre-existing local) atheist group.  Really all this would require would be a website, a logo, and some charter documents to make it easy to apply as an official student org; maybe some time also trying to identify and contact people in various medical professional schools to invest a minimum of time to do it.  (And T-shirts?  etc.)


Of course if groups do want to be more than a front end, a great activity (either under their own banner or as part of the campus atheist group) would be having monthly ethical discussions of tough cases, since that's really where we come into conflict with theists, and it's the important question anyway.  Such discussions don't have to be labeled as an "atheist ethics discussion"; they would be most effective if we make clear that everyone is welcome, although everyone should expect to defend their moral values.  Many medical institutions have these discussions already, although they're run by faculty and I have to admit that for career reasons I have been hesitant to attend them.  This would provide a student-run forum where people could speak freely without such reservations.


Thoughts?  If you like the idea, then are you in medical/nursing/etc. school right now?  Would you be interested in being the contact person there if this goes forward?  I'd also be grateful to anyone good at coming up with names and logos.




Mike Caton, University of California-San Diego School of Medicine

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Replies to This Discussion

That's excellent news, congratulations JK! Sounds like your presence there is really valuable so please do keep us updated.  The discussion function (and keeping it open to everyone) I think will be very productive.


Also, I made good on my "threat" to start one at UCSD.  Its introduction will be at our student activities fair this coming Thursday.  Really it's just a feeder group for the already-existing SSA-afiliate on campus, Rational Thought@UCSD. 

I think that there should definitely be an organized atheist presence in medical and nursing schools.  I wish I had known of one in my area when I was in nursing school.  While the curriculum at my school was rigorous in enforcing evidence-based standards of practice, I still encountered an inordinate amount of woo, especially when it came to "alternative/traditional medicine" and "nurturing the spiritual" along with physical and psychological aspects of care.  Nurses I worked with openly prayed, practiced "therapeutic" touch (laying on of hands in the religious sense), and questioned me about my beliefs on a daily basis.  It was difficult and required a firm grasp of the principles of critical thinking and tact to succeed!  An atheist group would have been a great help.

As far as an atheist group at a school, what I ended up doing at my own was just registering one so I can show up to activity fairs and let people know we're there.  Really it's just a funnel to get people aware of or involved with the main group here on campus.  About 10% of my class signed up for it, and I was sitting there with the group banner which is pretty aggressively anti-religious (I didn't design the sign or it might've had a more nuanced message).  I got zero hassle as a result - so far, so good.  Next step is to start a medical ethics discussion group away from faculty, everyone invited.


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