Compared to medical school applicants who identify as straight, applicants who identify as a member of a sexual and gender minority group may face additional concerns about going to medical school, including, but not limited…
Compared to medical school applicants who identify as straight, applicants who identify as a member of a sexual and gender minority group may face additional concerns about going to medical school, including, but not limited to, their physical safety, mental well-being and finding a sense of community.
Here are three factors that SGM-identifying applicants should consider.
Location, location, location. SGM-identifying applicants should think about the location in which they will be spending the next four-plus years of their lives for their medical training. Timothy Keyes, a fourth-year M.D./Ph.D. student at the Stanford University School of Medicine and co-founder of the Medical Student Pride Alliance emphasized the importance of using a wide set of criteria to evaluate a school’s location.
“Look at the surrounding area. Are you in a city or are you in a rural environment? Larger hospitals tend to draw more providers who identify as LGBTQIA+,” says Keyes. “Schools in city environments may also offer opportunities to rotate in clinics catering to queer or transgender populations.”
Keyes also spoke to the importance of understanding the zeitgeist of the area around the medical school. “What is the political and social climate of the location? In my own experience, I didn’t want to face the threat of violence from anyone. Are there workplace discrimination laws in the state? Which states had same-sex marriage before it was nationally recognized?”
School support. Medical school applicants should also consider how programs specifically support SGM-identifying students, residents, fellows, and faculty members.
Shana Zucker, a third-year M.D./MPH/M.S. student at Tulane University School of Medicine and co-founder of Queericulum, an LGBTQIA+ health curriculum, recommended looking for the presence of “an office of diversity and inclusion at the school. That’s a signifier of a school’s commitment to leadership and inclusion to ensure amplification of the voices and concerns of underrepresented students from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
Keyes also suggested looking at the school-specific questions in secondary applications to gauge how invested a program is in identifying and supporting students in minority groups.
“Many schools ask for ‘diversity essays’ to get an applicant’s sense of multiculturalism,” he says. “They will ask you what it means to be a citizen in heterogeneous society. A small minority of schools will give you an opportunity to identify as LGBTQIA+ in your secondary applications, and a smaller number of those schools will give you the option to choose how they can use the information. These programs are showing a nuanced perspective on the importance of identity.”
The current students. One of the best ways to evaluate a program is to ask the current students directly. Keyes suggests using the interview day and second-look events to talk to existing students in the school’s LGBTQIA+ group.
“How active is the group, and what sort of events do they have — social or professional? Are people out in medical school? There is typically a point person that you can contact to ask questions about the program. If there isn’t a point person, that may mean that a school isn’t doing enough to support its LGBTQIA+ students.”
Zucker also recommends using the interview day to gauge the potential fit of a program, “The most important factor is how you feel while interacting with other students. If you feel included as an individual, that’s a start. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, but interview day is a time to consider whether you feel good at the program and whether you are surrounded by the type of people you aspire to be.”
“Whether a student chooses to be out at a medical school is a personal decision, but it’s still important to feel welcome, and being able to have that sense is a crucial thing to keep in mind,” Zucker says.