Celebrating and Learning From Our LGBTQ+ Community Members and Allies
As a leading national medical group, we are proud to represent the country's diversity in our teams and the patients we serve. This Pride Month, our teammates who are members and allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning (LGBTQ+) community reflect on their journeys and how it takes everyone to improve the healthcare system and the health of our communities.
Sarah Martin, MSN, AGACNP-BC
Sarah Martin is a trauma nurse practitioner specializing in trauma and surgery. She has been caring for patients for 10 years and is based in Fort Worth, Texas. She identifies as a lesbian, and her pronouns are she/her/hers.
In medicine, we are taught to give things their proper names. We say the word “died” instead of “passed away” when talking to a patient’s family. We don’t flinch when we say “cancer.” Being clear and precise with our language is something that is woven into the fabric of how we deliver care to our patients and their families.
The same idea holds true with one of the most important things we can do as providers to support the LGBTQ+ community. During the decade that I’ve spent in healthcare, I’ve seen the beginning of a very important shift when it comes to giving things their proper names. Instead of being dismissed as “a friend,” I am now beginning to see husbands, wives and partners of like-gendered patients being respected in their roles. Instead of hearing a string of confused pronouns rattled off in the presence of a patient who identifies as transgender, I now hear the patient’s chosen pronoun used with consistency and confidence.
This very simple idea holds enormous power. When you acknowledge a critically ill patient’s partner in their role as husband or wife, you communicate to them that you respect them and their role as a decision-maker for the patient. When you use proper pronouns for a transgender patient, you assure them that you will respect who they are without judgment or mockery. In a world where members of this community have been invisible out of fear (of judgment, or worse, of their own safety) for so long, this acknowledgment matters more than you can imagine.
Steve Bartow is the Vice President of Emergency Medicine and Hospital Medicine Support Center at Envision. He has been with the medical group for 13 years and is based in Horsham, Pennsylvania. He identifies as an ally, and his pronouns are he/him/his.
Envision has been doing a tremendous job of embracing the LGBTQ+ community and the need to reflect the diverse communities we serve. However, we all play an active role in continuously building upon a culture that embraces diversity. This means giving our teammates the space to express themselves in meaningful ways without fear of ridicule or reprisal.
As a leader in healthcare, we are making a difference in countless lives each day. The community members we encounter come from every walk of life, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Because of this, we must continue to lead the healthcare system in fostering diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s also necessary for people to see themselves reflected in their caregivers. If a patient is openly gay or lesbian, gender-fluid or transexual, it can be comforting to see others in the healthcare community with whom they can identify.
My Presbyterian minister father came out as gay in 1977. I was 11 years old. He went through treatment at a mental health clinic twice to try to “cure” him of what was then thought of as a mental illness. I visited him at the mental health hospital during the 30-day inpatient stays throughout several years and, I’ve seen all that he’s dealt with throughout his life. There is no reason for anyone, regardless of their identity, to be ridiculed and marginalized by society and told they are abnormal.
Dad will be 86 in September, and he’s thrilled to see our society’s advancements, but there’s still a long way to go for global acceptance for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. His experiences made me want to be an ally and help those who may be struggling in the workplace. There are many LGBTQ+ community members who remain closeted, and I want to be part of helping change their circumstances.
Todd Barnes serves as a Regional Marketing Director at AMSURG. He’s been with the medical group for nearly four years and is based in Nashville, Tennessee. He identifies as gay, and his pronouns are he/him/his.
The LGBTQ+ community is riddled with physical, mental and spiritual challenges. Finding healthcare to address these challenges is a task for us. According to a 2020 survey by the Center for American Progress, 15 percent of respondents said they postponed or avoided medical care for fear of disrespect or discrimination. Further, HIV remains an epidemic, as 69 percent of the new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. were among gay and bisexual men in 2018. Medications like PrEP prevent HIV, but transmission rates in the South remain staggering at 51 percent annually compared to all U.S. regions. Why? Stigma, poverty, inadequate access to healthcare and racial bias contribute to the HIV epidemic, where PrEP education and accessibility have been lacking.
Many of us are so overwhelmed with shame and living each day fighting personal demons arising from a seemingly hostile world. Role models are scarce and finding the courage to be seen and heard is challenging – at least it was for me. Because I have chosen to acknowledge and begin healing years of shame, I can now embrace the challenge of fighting alongside my LGBTQ+ family to achieve equality.
The ability to listen, empathize and thoughtfully act is what I believe to be the foundation of educating community members and helping to eliminate the healthcare inequities that exist. Most likely, we have all known what it feels like to be less than, not enough, weird and disconnected. When we can connect human to human – heart to heart – we can solve any challenge.
AMSURG has taken these first steps, and it’s heartwarming that we are all challenging ourselves to become more loving, thoughtful and understanding toward all communities who experience challenges achieving what some of us take for granted – access to high-quality healthcare.
So, what can you, our friends, neighbors and community members do? Just listening and learning is a great place to start. If compelled, write your local legislator on the healthcare issues the LGBTQ+ community is facing or volunteer at a local HIV resource center like Nashville CARES. The important thing is to just begin somehow someway.