The LGBTQ+ People in Medicine Forum

by Donald Lei, MS2

On May 19th, 2017, the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine hosted its inaugural LGBTQ+ People in Medicine Forum. With over 45 medical students and house staff from the University of Chicago in attendance, the forum was an opportunity to both meet potential mentors in health and discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) identity in medicine.

The panel discussion, led by Iris Romero, MD, MS, began with panelists' experiences coming out in medicine and how they approach coming out to their patients. For one resident in pediatrics, this meant not coming out to his patients regularly, but being open about it when he felt it would help him connect with patients. Dr. Romero openly recounted her inner struggles before coming out as a lesbian OB/GYN provider to her patients, and spoke of the overwhelmingly positive response she received once she did. 

From there, the conversation shifted to heteronormativity and its role in career advancement, with Scott Hunter, PhD and Sonali Paul, MD, MS sharing their experiences being out while applying to graduate schools, residencies, and jobs. For them, being out on their applications was a way to gauge program attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people and select accepting environments. To this point—whether or not an applicant should put their LGBTQ+ identity on their applications—Dr. Romero offered the following advice: "If it is a major part of your work, definitely include it in your application. If it is only a part of your private life, you can choose to mention it."

The panel progressed to discussing more practical issues that students and residents often face, such as coming out to superiors and reporting incidents. Nolan Faust, a fourth year medical student, suggested that one way for students to organically come out to their attendings might be selecting sites that have a larger LGBTQ+ patient population and explaining why you have chosen those sites. Charles Rhee, MD advised that students proactively consider whether institutions they apply to have mechanisms in place to handle any issues that may arise on the wards. Here at the University of Chicago, help can be sought out at the LGBT+ Resource Group, Bias Response Team, and the BSD Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The forum concluded with a discussion on LGBTQ+ visibility in healthcare. Many suggested that greater visibility was important for the LGBTQ+ community. Memorably, Dr. Hunter spoke to this point saying, "If we stay in the closet, we will be expected to stay in the closet." The discussion concluded with a reminder from Tobias Spears, an audience member and associate director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, that each person's identity is their own—including the choice to come out to only some and the time frame in which one does that.

The event was hosted by OUTpatient, Pritzker’s LGBTQ+ student group, and organized by student leaders Ryan Erickson (MS2), John Hawkins (MS2), Josh Prenner (MS2), and Jackie Wang, MD’17, with support from Monica Vela, MD’93 and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.