In 2020, hospital emergency rooms were the front line of the COVID-19 battlefield. But Dr. Charles Farmer ’12, a leader in the field of social emergency medicine, can tell you that ERs, where healthcare teams fight for people’s lives, are also where the effects of society’s ills can be seen.
Farmer’s passion for advocacy grew during his residency at NYU Bellevue Hospital. He worked with pioneers in the field that considers the social context of underserved populations. As a resident, he created a curriculum where students discussed the societal factors that contributed to ER visits. Today, Farmer is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and works at University Hospital in Newark, where he fine-tunes the critical mindsets of his students.
He notes that some people go to the ER for regular care because of insurance issues, lack of food, or housing problems. Better access to public housing could save trips made to the ER for shelter and health conditions like hypothermia.
COVID-19 has brought to light the lapses in the healthcare system, Farmer says, and he hopes to see improvements in how information is shared with people of color and other marginalized communities hit hardest by the pandemic. But he notes that the pandemic also showed the enormous strength of nurses, doctors and custodial staff in the healthcare system.
Farmer says he was excited and a bit nervous to be the fifth person to get a COVID-19 vaccine in New Jersey, leveraging his position as an African American doctor to show other people of color that the vaccine is safe. The moment he received the shot, Farmer recalls thinking, “Man, maybe we’re finally reaching the end of the line with this — there’s a light at the end.”
Farmer attributes his servant leadership commitment to his time at Seton Hall. “You are always surrounded by students and then also amazing faculty that help mold you into a leader and help you realize your full potential. So I definitely credit my experience at Seton Hall for helping me become the physician and advocate that I am today.”
As to the future of social emergency medicine, Farmer says, “I feel like healthcare really should be a right, not really a privilege, so I hope that we can do a better job as a society of making sure that that’s not an issue for people.”
By Jessica Strom