Pride Highlight Month

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  • June 30, 2021

We celebrate Pride month in June as a remembrance of the Stonewall Riots, and in honor of pioneering LGBTQ+ advocates, like Marsha P. Johnson, who paved the way for the equal rights we have today. Visit this article to learn more about the history of Pride!

With June being Pride month, the AMWA Premedical Division would like to take this time to highlight the incredible work of some queer women in medicine.

Dr. Heidi Johng – PGY4 plastic & reconstructive surgery resident

IG: @quigonjohng

Brief biography:

Hi! My name is Heidi. I’m a first gen Korean American – I was born in South Korea and lived there for a good chunk of my childhood before moving to Rochester, MN. My path to medicine wasn’t straightforward; I went into college wanting to be a prosecutor but quickly realized I hated poli sci. I dabbled in several other majors including journalism and piano performance until one fateful post-bar-hopping evening – I turned on my TV to a documentary about a pediatric neurosurgery and plastic surgery team who helped a kiddo in Uganda with Crouzon’s. I signed up for pre-med courses the next day, volunteered in a pediatric neurosurgery lab, and graduated college with a major in neurobiology. While I had every intention of becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon going into medical school, I ended up choosing plastic surgery instead. The field of plastic surgery is so much more than how the media portrays it – if any of you are curious about what it’s like to be a plastic surgeon, I’m more than happy to answer your questions. I’m currently a PGY4 plastic & reconstructive surgery resident in Minnesota.

What is like being a queer woman in medicine?

More often than not, being a queer womxn in medicine feels like I have a superpower. I think it helps me stand out, especially in the field of surgery, and even more so as a female in this still male-dominated profession. I make it a point to speak about my sexuality openly and proudly because I feel a responsibility to be an advocate for my fellow LGBTQ+ peers as a queer womxn surgeon. You never know who needs to hear that not only is it OK to be gay, it can totally be a superpower – a beacon of hope for anyone who is struggling with their own sexuality.

What advice do you have for young women (and queer folks in general) who may be on the path to medicine?

It may be cliche, but it is truly a privilege being a doctor. As a surgeon, patients often come to you in their most desperate hour of need, and you’re in a position to offer them a second chance. It’s a sad but very real truth that the LGBTQ+ community has been marginalized time and time again when it comes to healthcare, so representation within our own is incredibly important. I’m extremely honored to be a queer physician and would encourage any LGBTQ+ youth with a desire to make a difference to pursue medicine. It’s not easy, but it’s 100% worth it.

 

Sabina – MS3

IG: @thecurlymed

Brief biography:

My name is Sabina. I’m an MS3 at @pittmedicine. I graduated from UPenn in 2016 where I studied neuroscience and gender/sexuality/women’s studies. I took 3 gap years between ugrad and med school bc I needed to boost my GPA and improve my application. I did a Master in Science in Biology and a Master of Public Health before applying to med school. I’m always happy to answer any questions about overcoming low GPAs and strategies for the application cycle! Check out my insta: @thecurlymed 🙂 

I’m incredibly passionate about LGBTQ+ health, medical education, and reproductive health. I spend a lot of my time outside of studying working on various qualitative research projects in these fields as I hope to work in academic medicine one day! Also, I’m the Executive Director for @MSPA_National, which is the national student org for LGBTQ+ med students. 

What is like being a queer woman in medicine?

As a med student who is a Black gay woman, I spend a lot of my time advocating for improvements and change to health education and health care for LGBTQ+ communites both at the local and national levels. I got into medicine because I wanted to be able to pull from my own negative and positive experiences navigating healthcare with intersecting identities as I work with patients and interact with peers. So far, I’ve been able to work with incredible mentors and colleagues who are like-minded to help progress the inclusivity of medical education and clinical experiences for students and patients who identify within the LGBTQ+ umbrella. There are definitely days when the minority tax of doing this work is tiring and when I receive pushback from patients or faculty. But, at the end of the day, I know that my presence in medicine is important and needed for the patients for whom I provide care. That alone is enough to make everything I do worth it to me.

What advice do you have for young women (and queer folks in general) who may be on the path to medicine?

You’ll receive a lot of pushback along the path to medicine for speaking your truth and sharing your stories as they stem from your identities. People will advise you to shy away from talking about your identities on your applications to medicine for various reasons. If you are comfortable sharing your identities and if it is core to your reasons for entering medicine, then go for it. Don’t let the naysayers get to you. Your presence in medicine matters. You are an asset to medicine.

 

Dr. Crystal – Family Medicine & Sports Medicine Physician

IG: @drcrystalmd

Brief biography:

My name is Crystal Higginson and I am a Family Medicine and Sports Medicine physician. I am 3 years out of fellowship and currently have my dream job at the University of Notre Dame, working in their student health clinic, while being the team doctor for 7 varsity athletic teams.

I knew I wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. Initially my parents pushed me towards medicine, thinking it would be a lucrative and stable career, but as I progressed through high school, I started to realize my love for science and learning about the human body. I became the first in my family to attend college and never wavered from my goal of becoming a physician, going straight from undergrad to medical school, where I discovered my passion for Sports Medicine and decided to get there by way of Family Medicine. In residency I met my wife, Heather, and we both continued on to complete Sports Medicine fellowships.

What is like being a queer woman in medicine?

I am very fortunate to not have had a single negative experience related to my sexuality in my training or career thus far. To me, the most difficult part of being a queer person in medicine has been having to think about how my peers and superiors would perceive me based on my sexuality. It felt unfair that this was something that my heterosexual friends did not even have to consider and scary that I knew of exactly ZERO lesbian physicians to ask for advice. When my wife and I started dating in residency, we were very worried about how it would go over with our program and our attendings as neither of us had been out in our program prior. We were accepted with nothing but love and kindness. By the time I was applying for jobs as an attending, I was much more comfortable with my sexuality, engaged to the love of my life, but yet still found myself considering hiding my sexuality to apply for my dream job, which just happened to be at a Catholic university. Family asked “what if they don’t approve of your ‘lifestyle?’” My wife and I were again accepted with nothing but love from my new coworkers. Being more familiar with the LGBTQ+ community and the health disparities we face, I have been able to make implementations in our practice to better serve our community and make our clinic a more welcoming and more comfortable space for everyone to receive healthcare.

What advice do you have for young women (and queer folks in general) who may be on the path to medicine?

It may have been different in the past, but I have found the medical community to be overwhelmingly accepting. If I could go back, I would have been much more open about my sexuality so much sooner. I have had many future and current doctors ask for my advice on being open about their sexuality and honestly, I feel that if a school, employer, or superior is going to judge you based on your sexuality, it is better to know up front so you can choose to stay away. They don’t deserve you. Put yourself in environments where you feel comfortable being unapologetically yourself because in the end you will be happier and a better doctor to your patients.

Courtney Chau

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