Meet our Doctors for Dignity End-of-Life Disparities Intern Sydney Reed
Sydney Reed’s path to medicine was lovingly laid by her family, solidified by personal experiences and is powered by her incredible drive. Thanks to a new partnership with the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), Doctors for Dignity (D4D) (an initiative of Compassion & Choices), Sydney is excited to welcome her as its very first End-of-Life Disparities Intern.
Currently residing in Chicago, Sydney is about to begin her second year at Ross University School of Medicine based in Barbados. To highlight the very first intern in this role, Compassion & Choices staff met with the Arkansas native to learn a bit more about her and her journey to explore palliative care.
Though she never saw herself going into medicine, aptly-timed outside encouragement changed everything. In 10th grade, Sydney’s family physician offered to let her visit the practice and shadow the doctor’s day. She initially brushed off the invite, as many teenagers might do. Her grandfather, however, had other plans and convinced Sydney to visit the practice during winter break.
As she tells the story, her eyes light up. “Dr. Flowers has been my mentor ever since!” In fact, the same practice introduced Sydney to the SNMA while she was in high school, and that community of support has supported her throughout her academic and personal journeys.
The SNMA, founded in 1964, is “committed to supporting current and future underrepresented minority medical students, addressing the needs of underserved communities, and increasing the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians.” Sydney is a perfect match for this internship, as the organization is full of exceptional young leaders.
Thanks to continued support from her family and her mentor, Sydney received a bachelors in Chemistry, and a post baccalaureate degree in cytotechnology, the study of cells. Though medical school didn’t happen right away, Sydney took a year to gain experience in pathology labs where she tested and diagnosed tissue samples. “That was important to me,” she said, “because right around then, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer.”
Devastatingly, Sydney’s beloved grandfather who gave her that first push into medicine, died as she studied for her MCATs. Academia does not always allow space for grief, but her family’s positive experience with hospice brought comfort. Her grandfather’s dreams came true when Sydney was accepted to Ross, a school she says saw her holistically, rather than just as a test score and a transcript.
Her grandfather’s end-of-life experience led Sydney to apply for this internship. At a 2021 SNMA conference, the Compassion & Choices Doctors for Dignity booth caught her eye. “I saw an opportunity to learn more about palliative care; I thought ‘maybe I can talk to my peers, communities, who don’t understand why hospice is so important and should be utilized.’”
Starting medical school online amidst the Covid-19 pandemic is unimaginably difficult. Understandably, when the SNMA conference was coming, Sydney wasn’t sure she had the time or mental energy to attend. “I was struggling that semester, and I needed to study. I just felt so overwhelmed. I decided to have the conference playing on my second monitor,” Sydney said, noting that it wasn’t long before she felt relief.
“It was so amazing to be around so many successful Black physicians who look like you and want to help you. It was the push I needed,” she says. “And I passed my exams right after the conference!”
President of SNMA, Osose Obo, blogged honestly about her experience in a palliative care rotation and Sydney shares that it was another source of inspiration for her applying for this internship. As an intern with D4D, Sydney will expand her knowledge of palliative medicine, advance-care planning and end-of-life disparities. She will present this information to community and health organizations.
“Young physicians are hungry for this information. We hope to educate early in their careers so the knowledge they gain about hospice, advance-care planning and disparities will inform and enrich all that they learn about the practice of medicine,” said Dr. Rebecca Thoman, Doctors for Dignity Program Director. “Sydney’s passion for the subject, based on her personal family experience, makes her the perfect student to launch this internship.”
Doctors for Dignity (D4D), an initiative of Compassion & Choices, is a community of more than 2,000 physicians (from 48 states and D.C.) who support medical aid in dying. D4D volunteer physicians advocate for medical aid-in-dying legislation in their states (testifying, educating lawmakers, their peers and the public) and work within organized medicine for policy change.