An LGBTQ+ Student's Perspective on Medical School
Published on Sep 3, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.
Are you interested in learning about the LGBTQ+ community? Look no further! In today's post as part of our Minorities in Medicine series, Omer Rott, one of our OMEFs, shares a bit about his coming out story and about his experiences as a gay medical student studying abroad.
Since the new wave of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the states, I have become more aware of the importance of learning more about our patients’ backgrounds and communities. I will leave writing about the African-American community to my very capable Osmosis colleague Antoinette Leonard-Jean Charles. Instead, I will use this short article to give you a glimpse into my experience as a gay person and how it affects my life and my experience as a foreign medical student.
My coming out story
Since only one out of ten people is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am assuming some of you readers might be heterosexual—and that’s fine! Some of you might have friends who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, while others might not. Don’t worry, no matter who you are or who your friends are, this article is still for you.
Some members of the community have had to go through the process of “coming out of the closet,” which is a metaphor for the journey of self-acceptance. During this process, a person acknowledges their sexuality and often shares that identity with loved ones in their lives. I believe “coming out” holds a big part in understanding the community better. So in the hopes of helping you understand some of your future patients better, this is a very short version of my coming out story.
The possibility of me being gay sort of popped into my head around 10th grade. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone from the community, and from what I read online about the experiences of LGBTQ+ members, being gay was not always as colorful as our flag. In some countries it is illegal, in some it is legal but there is a big difference between legal and accepted—and let’s not forget my fear about my parents’ and friends’ reactions. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the mere suggestion I might be gay terrified me so much I decided to ignore it, and I did until I was enlisted to the Israeli army (IDF).
During my service, those terrifying thoughts hit me again. It took a lot of soul searching before I realized that there was nothing wrong with who I am. I slowly started working on accepting myself and practicing in front of the mirror to be able to say it out loud. At the age of twenty, I told my parents; a few months later I told my army friends and, later, my high school friends. To my surprise, just like in the movie Love, Simon, everyone was extremely okay and supportive. For me, the only real obstacle had been my fear.
I believe “coming out” is split into two parts: an internal part, and an external part. For me, the internal part, the “coming out” to myself was the real struggle, while the external one of telling my loved ones ended up being great. I am aware that I am extremely lucky, because some people have it much tougher either internally, externally or both.
Choosing my University
I don’t feel like my personal experience as a gay medical student is very different from that of my heterosexual classmates. Unfortunately, as a foreign gay medical student, my experience is different.
Originally from Israel, I am studying in Czechia in a city called Brno. Before choosing the city and country, I went through the usual list of criteria for choosing a university, such as how costly it is, potential level of education, and the city’s social life. However, I also had to research how LGBTQ+ friendly the country and city was. Nowadays, most western countries are accepting and safe, but I was unwilling to take any chances since I was going to spend the next six years of my life there. I wanted a place where I could not just exist, but somewhere I could freely and publicly express myself.
After many hours and days of research, Brno came up. What really caught my eye was a page in the city’s official site dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community with information about clubs, local dating apps, and events in the city. It has been three years since I came here and I am happy I took the time to look for a place where I can be 100% myself.
The Room Where It Happened
We have all been to the doctor’s office at some point, and we have all needed to share some personal information with our doctor, which can sometimes be uncomfortable and embarrassing. A good doctor will do everything they can to make the visit as professional and as comfortable as possible. The doctor will smile when you enter, look at you while asking questions, speak in a calm and gentle manner. Going further, we now know that healthcare providers must also understand how to practice inclusive medicine.
The first time I went to the doctor for a routine STD testing, my doctor was perfect. He smiled, didn’t stare at the computer screen the entire time, and even explained the different types of tests I would go through. I was gathering the courage to ask about sexual health specifically for gay people when he said, “I hope your girlfriend is also getting tested.” Unfortunately, back then I was very much in the closet, and the casual way he asked about my “female partner” made me feel like I was not “normal”. That small question made me feel insecure and embarrassed. The result was me taking the referral and leaving as soon as I could without asking any questions. I ended up googling the information, and as we know, “Dr. Google” might not judge, but is not board certified.
In hindsight, I should have asked my question anyway or even gone to another doctor, since my health and well being is more important than any prejudice.
If you are reading this article as a future health care worker, please take a look at this article, “Communicating with LGBTQ Patients,” as well as an article I wrote on this topic, "How to Provide LGBTQ+ Patients With the Best Care Possible." Following the helpful tips in these article will reduce your chances of ostracizing your future patients. This kind of understanding can truly save lives.
Omer Rott is a third-year medical student at Masaryk University, Brno, located in the Czech Republic. A Regional Lead in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program, he is interested in Pediatrics. During his free time, Omer enjoys reading, baking, photography, and playing board games with his friends.
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