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Massachusetts Nurses Association Remembers Dr. Paul Farmer as a Fearless Advocate for Social and Healthcare Justice

MNA nurses and healthcare professionals fondly recall working with Dr. Paul Farmer as a physician, infectious disease specialist, and leading advocate for vulnerable and underserved populations around the globe. When Dr. Farmer died on February 21 at age 62, his passing quickly reverberated throughout the nursing community. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where Dr. Farmer had long worked alongside nurses on the medical unit and was chief of the division of global health equity, nurses remembered him as a “world healer” and an authentic person who cared deeply for his patients and colleagues.

Dr. Paul Farmer with a 7-year-old patient from Peru and her father. Photo credit: National Institutes of Health/Bill Branson

“Dr. Farmer was fearless,” said Katie Murphy, President of the MNA and an ICU nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who worked with Dr. Farmer when he was a resident. “He was a real fighter for social justice. He knew what was right and what was wrong, and he did something about it. Many nurses are personally and professionally devastated by his loss.”

Dr. Farmer was an anthropologist, author of a dozen books, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of the international non-profit Partners in Health. The organization is dedicated to expanding access to health care to some of the world’s most under-served areas and operates in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Last year, according to its website, the group helped provide nearly 3 million outpatient visits in supported clinics, more than 2 million women’s health checkups and 2 million home visits conducted by community health workers.

Haiti has been an area of focus for Dr. Farmer and Partners in Health. Following the devasting 2010 earthquake, many MNA nurses joined missions to Haiti, including with Dr. Farmer. In the years since, MNA nurses have continued to accompany Dr. Farmer on missions, responding to what his non-profit calls the “moral imperative to provide high-quality health care globally to those who need it most.”

“Dr. Farmer’s north star was advocacy for the underserved,” Murphy said.  “As union nurses and healthcare professionals, we feel a deep connection to Dr. Farmer’s legacy of giving a voice to the voiceless.”