Since Penn Medicine launched its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Health Program in 2014, the group’s numerous initiatives have tackled diversity and inclusion in the workplace, classroom, and clinical settings, educated students and staff on LGBT health topics and disparities, and participated in community outreach, among other efforts.
Now, a new LGBT student-trainee-faculty mentorship program is tapping into a rich community of LGBT professionals at varying levels of medical careers to mentor LGBT students.
Borne out of a meeting in January 2016 between Rosemary Thomas, program coordinator for Penn Medicine’s Program for LGBT Health, and the School of Medicine’s student-run LGBT People in Medicine group, the new program recruits students, faculty and trainees all aimed at fostering an environment for LGBT medical students to thrive.
“The goal is to become multi-generational,” Thomas said. “As someone moves up in their career, you add someone to that chain. We are establishing relationships that will reap benefits throughout these students’ careers.”
Attending the group’s first meet and greet is remarkably unremarkable. Many of the topics discussed there are no different from conversations at meet and greets hosted by the Elizabeth Blackwell Society, the Alliance of Minority Physicians, or any other student group, such as managing work/life balance or discussing research interests. I quickly learned that the individuals simply being present matters at least as much as the words coming out of their mouths.
“I wanted to meet gay doctors and get a sense of this life that I will embark on,” said Sean Udell, a second year student at the Perelman School of Medicine and one of three co-chairs of the school’s LGBT People in Medicine group.
Although both his parents were physicians, Udell never knew an out LGBT physician growing up. But, after arriving at Penn, Udell quickly met other gay medical students, and during his first month of medical school met with a gay attending. Meeting the attending helped paint the picture that the career Udell had been striving for is possible.
“Part of the reason I never imagined myself going into medicine was because I didn’t see anyone who was like me in the field and I didn’t think I would necessarily fit in,” Udell said. “When I started medical school, I still held this sort of imposter syndrome in terms of thinking I don’t really belong here, people like me don’t go into medicine.”
Udell said those initial meetings were affirming and hopes the new mentorship program creates long-lasting relationships for his peers and colleagues.
“The LGBT Health program is bringing together all the good work that people have been doing at Penn and Penn Medicine for a long time,” said Judd Flesch, MD, an assistant professor of Medicine in Pulmonary Medicine, and co-associate director of the Penn Program for LGBT health with Rebecca Hirsh, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in hematology and oncology. “This mentorship program is another extension of that.”
More than 15 faculty, residents and fellows currently volunteer their time to help the next generation of LGBT doctors and other health leaders. They are paired with 15 students interested in careers matching their clinical or research expertise. One of those students is Elizabeth Duthinh, a second year medical student and the co-chair of LGBT People in Medicine.
“I’ve been making an effort to reach out to first year students and have coffee to talk about how things are going,” Duthinh said. “Partly because there are so few LGBTQ women faculty mentors and I definitely felt that gap when visualizing myself in those roles.”
Duthinh noted that mentorship across stages of training fills a unique role in addition to peer-to-peer community.
“I think the first few months of medical school are really hard,” said Duthinh. “It can be overwhelming and a really big adjustment. It’s much more comfortable to talk about the ways you’re struggling with someone who has been through it already.”
Duthinh already has a coffee meeting scheduled with her mentor, which she hopes will provide beneficial insights to carry throughout her career in medicine and impart on the first year students she meets.
Udell’s mentor match, Andres Deik, MD, an assistant professor of Neurology, is a perfect fit for Udell’s interest in the field.
Working in special education before starting medical school, Udell saw first-hand how valuable a neurologist could be for many in that population.
“When I went to medical school (in the nation of Colombia), we had nothing like this,” said Deik. “Many professors had misguided conceptions of the gay community. I didn’t feel protected. It’s nice to now be in an environment that’s open and values you for who you are, in a safe place to reach out – it’s a very cool thing.”
An inspiring early turnout suggests this group will flourish and grow as the years pass and those chains of mentorship lengthen.
“I’ll give back now and you’ll give back when you’re an attending and pay it forward,” Deik said.
Any Penn Medicine students, trainees or faculty members interested in participating in the mentor program, please email Rosemary Thomas at email@example.com.