VP&S Class of 2021: Andrew Sudler
Many VP&S students take a year off from medical school to pursue research or a dual degree, such as an MD-MPH.
Andrew Sudler “went into the wilderness” and took a year off to work for a law firm.
Sudler didn’t turn to law because he questioned his desire to become a physician. “I heard the actress Kerry Washington say in an interview how important it was for her to ‘go into the wilderness’ and return to her ‘roots as an artist’ when she felt disconnected from her craft,” says Sudler. “I have adopted this ideology in my own career because I think there are many aspects of medicine that can inhibit health care providers from caring for patients in ways that feel meaningful. As someone who identifies as a prison abolitionist and is concerned about the health implications of incarceration, taking a year off allowed me to return to my roots as an activist and see how I could use my education to serve people affected by the prison industrial complex.”
During his year at a public interest law firm, Sudler worked as a mitigation specialist on both capital and non-capital cases. “My job was to create trauma-informed social histories of clients’ lives that are used to assist in their defense,” he says. “I interviewed clients and their family, reviewed records, and researched historical and public health data to contextualize clients’ lived experiences. This work taught me how individuals with public health and medical training can use their skills to help advocate against inhumane prison sentences and advocate for access to social and health services.”
When he returned to medical school for his final year, Sudler’s legal experiences led to working on a scholarly project with Robert Fullilove, EdD, professor of sociomedical sciences and associate dean for minority affairs at Mailman School of Public Health. Sudler created a curriculum about mental health, trauma, and transformative justice for people who are incarcerated and attempting to earn educational credits during their incarceration.
“The carceral system is unfortunately the largest provider of mental health services in the United States, but it often perpetuates trauma and is ill-equipped to provide services in a way that is humanistic and trauma-informed,” he says. As a psychiatrist, Sudler eventually wants to teach the curriculum he created. “My hope is that it will highlight how mental illness, trauma, and marginalized identities are often criminalized and encourage us to imagine a world where that is not the case.”
This summer, he starts a residency in psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
“I enjoy listening to patients' life stories, and getting a sense of how someone identifies and sees themself in the world is the foundation of psychiatry,” Sudler says. “As someone who is interested in understanding how social and structural factors, including oppression, impact health, psychiatry is a good fit for me.”
Health inequities are never far from Sudler’s mind, and during medical school he worked on behalf of marginalized communities through research and advocacy.
“My experience as a Black man has made me very attuned to racism as a political, economic, and social determinant of health,” he says. Collaborating with researchers at UCSF, Sudler investigated how mental health providers can help people with serious mental illness, who have a greater risk of contracting HIV, adopt pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). As a member of the Black and Latino Student Organization, he served as the 2017 White Coats 4 Black Lives representative and organized the discussion series, “Breaking the Silence,” about discrimination as a structural determinant of health. The content was used to help health professions students develop skills to address institutional bias in their careers.
As a physician, Sudler aspires to practice medicine through a structural lens that allows him to acknowledge and address patients’ lived experiences as a part of their care. He also plans to continue his role as an activist. “Physicians have a powerful platform to advocate against injustice in many different systems, and I think the activist spirit of medicine is best exemplified when that platform is used to advance the struggle for liberation."