February 6, 2023, by School of Medicine

Reflections of an LGBTQ+ Medical Student for LGBTQ+ History Month

Imogen Hullis smiling and walking across the Pride crossingAs a third-year medical student at Nottingham, over the past few months I have been working on my BMedSci project. My dissertation was a scoping review, looking at research that explored the experiences of LGBTQ+ students studying medicine around the world. Not only was this a brilliant opportunity to understand what research currently shows about the intricacies of being queer and in medical school, but it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my personal experiences living as a queer person and studying medicine. It has put me in the perfect position write this piece, explaining what I have learnt about the realities, challenges and joys of being queer in the field of medicine today.

The aim of my BMedSci project was to map the current research that exists on the experiences of LGBTQ+ medical students, and to make recommendations to researchers, directing them towards the areas that would be most beneficial to gather more data on. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the historic under-representation and stigma against the queer community, I found that most of the research that exists is quite recent, but it was encouraging to see a growing interest in understanding the challenges faced by queer medical students within the field of medical education research.

The papers collected by my review mainly studied students in North American and European countries. This may also be unsurprising, as it is well known that although not perfect, the rights of LGBTQ+ people and the attitudes towards them can be more relaxed in these places. Many of these papers highlighted the difficulties that LGBTQ+ medical students face during their education, surrounding poor mental health, experiences of discrimination and mistreatment, and fears of being open about their identities within the medical school environment. It is clear that, in order for LGBTQ+ medical students to have a more positive experience whilst being openly queer at university, there is progress to be made in terms of the support that is available to them. As a result, one of the main recommendations of my research was that future researchers need to focus on finding effective ways to support LGBTQ+ people within medical faculties.

This post has been written for LGBTQ+ history month, and although we may not be aware of many queer physicians through history, there are some who have been influential within medicine. For example, Dr John Ercel Fryer, an American doctor and gay rights activist, is famous for his anonymous speech at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association (APA) annual conference, an event that contributed to the decision to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In the present day too, there are some prominent LGBTQ+ people within the medical field that you may not know of. Dr. Rachel Levine MD, for example, is currently the US Assistant Secretary for Health, and an openly transgender woman. Or, you may know of Dr Christian Jessen, the celebrity doctor and presenter of the TV show ‘Embarrassing Bodies’, or Adam Kay, the popular UK author of bestselling book ‘This is going to hurt’: both openly gay men.

Representation, both in our personal lives and social circles, as well as in the wider media, has been important to many LGBTQ+ people, and my research showed me that there is also a desire for more representation and a sense of queer community amongst medical students. Having proud, open queer communities within medical institutions is so important because it allows LGBTQ+ people to feel safe and accepted within their learning environment, which is something that we all deserve to feel. It is also important because diversity of all kinds within the medical workforce has been shown to improve the health outcomes of our patients: for example, one paper included in my review showed that peer support programmes aimed at LGBTQ+ medical students can inspire research to be conducted that focuses on LGBTQ+ health issues. At Nottingham this year, an LGBTQ+ medical student society was set up; an exciting first step for queer medical students here to begin to build their community within the medical school.

The process of writing my dissertation allowed me to reflect of my experiences since beginning medical school here, in Nottingham. I came out publicly towards the end of my first year of medical school. I felt able to do this because of the love and acceptance I felt from the people I had met in that first year, many of them medical students too. And it wasn’t only my medical student peers who have had a positive influence on my experience as a queer medic, but faculty members too, including my personal tutor and dissertation supervisors. Of course, there have been times when I have hesitated to be open about my identity with some of the people I have encountered at university, but I hope that with more research and support for LGBTQ+ people in medicine, this won’t be something that anyone has to worry about as much in the future. Whilst I recognise that clearly, not everyone is able to have the same positive experience as me, I can say that I feel proud to be both queer and a medical student, and no one within our medical school has ever acted to make me feel it should be any different than that.

Imogen Hullis

Third year Medical Student, Nottingham

Posted in Equality & DiversityMedicineStudent LifeWelfare