Health care advocacy beyond the clinic

I trace my own roots in working for social change to several family members – a grandfather, Philip S. VanCise in Denver, who served as district attorney back in the 1920s and fought the Ku Klux Klan; my father, Frank R. Drake, M.D., who always had empathy for the underdog; and my mother, Eleanor VanCise, who always encouraged me to become active in school activities leading to numerous offices as a student leader throughout public school and college.  

Megaphone My political activism goes back to the very first Earth Day in 1970. Attending that rally in downtown Denver seemed like a radical thing to do – and this was 46 years ago! During my first year at the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery, now DMU, I worked with classmates to have a student chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). The concern then, in 1980, was the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Growing up in the “duck and cover” generation during elementary school of hiding in the hallways with our hands behind our heads, we practiced for protection from a nuclear attack. Now in 2016 with the cold war seen as over, fear and even the slightest whisper about the reality of nuclear weapons in the world today are seldom to be seen or heard, even while some 15,000 nuclear weapons reside among nine nations –
with the majority held between the U.S. and Russia. 

We are no safer, and perhaps just luck has allowed our species and life on planet Earth to survive to the present day.

Starting some 12 years ago I began joining peace delegations to various countries – including Israel and the West Bank, Iran and Colombia, South America. Most recently I joined a medical delegation to Gaza where I consulted with local psychiatrists and facilitated a seminar for postgraduate mental health students on family relationships and stress management.

There are many issues that concern me now – climate change, nuclear proliferation, the threat of terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, peace in the Middle East and the growing refugee crisis worldwide. I see them as all connected. During my 20 years in Des Moines I have brought together groups with differing views on important issues of the day – including members of the FBI along with the American Civil Liberties Union to discuss the tension between civil liberties and domestic security, and members of the Muslim, Arab and Jewish populations of Des Moines to discuss the possibility for peace among Israelis and Palestinians, clean water, GMOs and immigration.

Our patients’ health, our family’s health, our very lives – all depend on an educated, informed and active citizenry. As health care professionals, we need to focus our efforts and energy beyond the clinical setting to ensure our planet and species survive.


David E. Drake, D.O.’83, FACN, DFAPA, has a private practice of psychotherapy in Des Moines and serves as clinical professor of psychiatry at DMU with students in his office.

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