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Upstate will again host Health Justice Conference on MLK Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day will once again be marked at Upstate Medical University with a student-run conference focused on how students and healthcare professionals can serve as advocates for change in the healthcare system.

The Health Justice Conference was first held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2018 and has been held on that day each year since. Originally held on the Upstate campus in Syracuse, the event was forced to go virtual in 2021. Organizers say the change brought unexpected benefits as students from far away, who would otherwise be unable to participate, were able to get involved.

This year’s Health Justice Conference has as its theme, “Avenues for Advocacy: Investing in our Future.” Organizers say the conference will emphasize how technology can be utilized for advocacy and innovation, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the continuing pandemic, this year’s conference will be held virtually with registrants joining lectures, discussions and break-out sessions on Zoom.

The keynote will be delivered by Heather Irobunda, MD, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist currently practicing at NYC Health and Hospitals. She will speak on, "Social Determinants of the Pandemic."

Other speakers include Upstate’s Brian Thompson, MD, discussing, “Current Issues in Native American Health,” George Stanley, MD, on “Race, Racism and Racial Issues in Women’s Health” and Richard Kelley, MD, on “Advancing the Goals of Medical Missions in Africa.”

An issue of particular interest to the Syracuse community will be part of the day as well, with presenters discussing advocacy regarding the disposition of Interstate 81, a highway that runs through the heart of the city, and borders Upstate’s campus.

Organizers report that hundreds of people are registered for the event, about two-thirds of them from Upstate. “We believe that despite the spectrum of challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 conference will offer a space for students and faculty to connect through a common pursuit of health equity,” said Nadia Debick, a student at Upstate’s Alan and Marlene Norton College of Medicine and one of the coference organizers.