To Be All of Me
5 minute read
Hi. My name is Erin Kingham, I am a physical therapy student, and I’m gay.
While all of this has been true for some time now, I still find it odd to see it all in the same sentence.
For a long time, being gay was not something I ever thought would play a role in my being or becoming a physical therapist (PT). In my mind they were 2 very distinctly separate parts of myself. However, during my first year of physical therapy school I found my mind-set slowly beginning to shift.
Maybe it was because I was finally in the clinic and interacting with real clinicians and patients, maybe it was the fact that I had finally come out to my parents, or maybe it was the summer I had spent interning at a nonprofit organization reminding other people that they are enough just as they are. Whatever it was that triggered it, I came to realize that I’d be happier not separating all parts of myself.
My first clinical was a once a week integrated experience at a Catholic hospital, and I was excited to begin applying the information that we were learning in class. Overall, it was a great clinical experience and I learned a lot. There were times, though, when I felt the need to hide who I was in my personal life.
It would be a patient asking if I had a boyfriend, or if I was married.
It was other clinicians asking about my personal life.
It was me being paranoid about the fact that I was in a Catholic hospital.
Every day that I went to the clinic I was looking forward to the day ahead, while also dreading it. I couldn’t wait to practice new skills, but I also didn’t always know how to be comfortable with who I was while I was there.
I have attended school in central Pennsylvania for 5 years now, so I am no stranger to hiding my sexuality, derogatory comments, and even protests regarding homosexuality. I am used to hiding who I am, but I realize now that I don’t want to hide anymore.
When I go out on clinicals, when I graduate and pass my boards, when I get a job, I want to be able to be all of me.
But this isn’t solely for me. I want this for my fellow students, for practicing PTs and physical therapist assistants (PTAs), and most of all, I want this for my patients. I want to create an environment in which my patients feel comfortable being exactly who they are, without fear and without shame. My hope is that you want the same.
To build such a place in today’s world feels nearly impossible and yet all the more necessary. It begins with growing in our knowledge and understanding. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and others (LGBTQIA+) population faces a great amount of discrimination when trying to access health care, and in 30 states there is no protection from this prejudice. You might be thinking to yourself that you would never turn away a patient because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, but the problem is so much deeper than that.
The problem starts with the heteronormative culture that is so ingrained in health care.
We have patients fill out forms asking for their legal name and sex, but we don’t ask them their gender identity, and their preferred name and pronouns. As PTs, we talk about and touch our patients’ bodies, but we don’t stop to think about the difference between how we see their body, and how someone with gender dysphoria may view it completely differently. This is why it is so important to learn about the LGBTQIA+ community.
As health care professionals, it’s on us to treat all of our patients to the best of our abilities, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. To provide optimal care, it’s on us to make our patients feel comfortable, giving them the ability to trust us.
For some, this level of understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community is seen as a burden. I’ve unfortunately overheard too many conversations in which health care professionals have complained about learning about my community. If we continue to allow ourselves to be ill-informed about the issues that affect minority populations—whether it be people who identify as LGBTQIA+, immigrants, or people of different races and religions—we will fail to help the communities that may need us the most.
Let me be clear though, I don’t need you or any other health care professional to know everything about what it’s like to be a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I just need you to know enough to be respectful and aware when treating patients and to be inclusive in your school or work environment.
No one, not patients, not clinicians, not students, should feel the need to hide who they are whether it is to provide or receive physical therapist services. For me, it’s uncomfortable to hide who I am and isolate myself because of it, so now I’m choosing not to. I hope that you’ll help me make a difference.
PT Proud is the LGBTQIA+ Committee under the Global Health Special Interest Group of the Health Policy & Administration Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. We are an LGBTQIA+ advocacy group supporting equity, education, and community for LGBTQIA+ patients and practitioners. Our purpose is to unite PTs, PTAs, and students toward a common goal of affecting change in the profession of physical therapy through advocacy, policy, and promotion of competency education. We aim to address health disparities and positively affect the health care experience of LGBTQ patients, students, and clinicians. To learn more visit our website at: https://www.ptproud.org/.
APTA is committed to fostering a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion within our community. This is a journey and that journey needs your perspective and support. If you have ideas to increase diversity and promote equity and inclusion, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erin Kingham, SPT, is a student at Lebanon Valley College and is passionate about advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community, and has been working with PT Proud to promote and generate more student involvement in the group.