When students gain direct experience with more egalitarian ways of interacting with future patients and colleagues that they would not have experienced in standard clinical environments, they are more likely to be capable of improving the culture of their profession throughout their career.
Why students should organize NEPs We argue that students, especially students in the health professions such as medicine, nursing, public health, and pharmacy and related fields such as law, sociology, criminology, social work, and many others have the potential to play important roles in advocating for and expanding access to harm reduction services, such as NEPs.
Depending on the services offered, students may become proficient in wound care and abscess drainage, concrete clinical skills useful in many health fields. Whereas previous studies have focused on the effectiveness of needle-exchange programs, we offer an analysis of a unique event, the closure of a well-established needle-exchange.
We encourage students and their mentors to consider learning about harm reduction and organizing an NEP as an important way to benefit their community and develop as health professionals. Further, students can have significant public influence and gain access to policymakers often denied to other segments of the public because they are entering respected professions.
Consequently, students can generate tremendous benefits to their community without performing beyond their appropriate clinical limitations. Consequently, education and policy change alongside program implementation are important goals for harm reduction advocates.
Overcoming stigma Stigma against PWID, homeless people, sex workers, transgender people, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized groups that benefit from NEPs exist in medicine, and negative attitudes of current practitioners are seen and internalized by students.
This makes students capable of directly managing the programs they build, building their self-reliance, problem-solving, and leadership skills.
In doing so, students gain important leadership skills relevant to their careers, such as interpreting statutes, navigating political power, engaging with their community, developing strategy, presenting to the media, and others.
In addition, due to their relative simplicity, needle exchanges do not require much of the licensing, clinical knowledge, and infrastructure associated with more traditional student programs, such as student-run free medical clinics.
Frequently we hear volunteers at our NEP state their surprise at the positive, kind, friendly, and often fun environment found there and in many other harm reduction organizations. By organizing NEPs, students are able to simultaneously advance harm reduction and lead their educational institutions towards the social justice orientation recognized as being essential to promote health and equality.