Tuesday, March 21, 2006


It's that surprising time of year. Those of you involved in any organization know what I mean: the time of year when the current leaders are looking forward and moving on, and those of us who up until this point have been working in the wings step up and take the lead. I say it's surprising because, at least in medical school, it kind of sneaks up in the middle of the year. The M2s are finished with classes now, and are officially off studying for boards, but we (the M1s) still have about two months of school left. It's surprising because some of the current leadership is actually disappearing somewhat abruptly and going home for 6 weeks to study. Others are still planning to stay in Ann Arbor, but will be cloistered in their apartments, the library, and possibly the LRC until the board exams. But surprising or no, it's an exciting time. As I'm taking on the "coordinator" position for BGLAM (Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians, and Allies in Medicine), I'm reflecting on what we've done this year, and what we have yet to accomplish.

September: The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) Annual Conference in Montreal was a great start to the year. Apart from having to defer my first ever anatomy practical exam, it was great, and the exam went well enough. I met other LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) identified medical students from all over the country, and was impressed that Michigan had the largest representation (eight of us attended at least some portion of the conference). I saw some great speakers, met people in workshops, and also got to know a few of my fellow UM med students a little bit better. I came back excited about what had been done in previous years (BGLAM actually got an award for the work that was done before I arrived!), and eager to work on other exciting projects.

October: We put together a panel of LGBTQ-identified medical students to speak and take questions over lunch. It was a little crazy to put myself out there in front of so many people that I was just getting to know, but I think it was a good experience. Lots of good questions.

February: BGLAM sponsored a day during the Minority Health Symposium. After discovering how busy everyone who works in health-related fields is, we finally found a great set of speakers. We had a panel from the HIV/AIDS Resource Center of their Director of Prevention Services, a case worker, and a member of one of their support groups. They had amazing things to say about substance abuse, HIV, and the LGBT community.

March: LGBT Health Awareness was a fantastic week of LGBT-related programming. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Nick Gorton, spoke about transgender healthcare. He gave an amazing overview of the nuts and bolts of trans healthcare! We also had a panel from the Lesbian Moms Network, a local group of families. They offered lots of suggestions for us as future physicians, as well as a unique perspective on forming families. Finally Dr. Jennifer Myers presented a discussion of creating an LGBT-friendly practice. We brainstormed ideas to make our practices as open and welcoming as possible, and her ideas helped to lead the conversation.

Now: I'm about to head to the AMSA National Convention to run for an Associate Coordinator Position within LGBTPM (LGBT People in Medicine, our AMSA-affiliated subtitle). Liz, an M3, is currently one of the national coordinators, and I'm excited to work more closely with her.

April: My first real undertaking as the new coordinator for BGLAM will be an event in April. We’re flying out Ben Singer to talk about culturally competent transgender healthcare, and give a talk on the generation of images of transgendered individuals both within the medical community and outside. I’m really excited about the event, and by the broad co-sponsorship (the Women’s Studies, Sociology, Anthropology departments, several undergrad LGBT organizations, and the student government are all on the list!). So that’s what the picture is: me working hard at organizing for BGLAM. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The DR

The last few weeks have been crazy. Women's Health and Fitness Day was the 11th. Last week was the Minority Health Symposium, this weekend was the Galen's Smoker, this week is LGBT Health Awareness Week. And the week before last was Spring Break. Don't worry, I'm not going to write about all of these now. But rest assured that you'll still be hearing about the month of February in April, because there's so much amazing stuff going on. Maybe it's all concentrated because the M2s are about to fall off of the face of the earth to study for board examinations. Or maybe people get excited in January and schedule a million things that *of course* they will have time to organize before March. At any rate, the focus of this post is actually my trip to the Dominican Republic over Spring Break.

It all started months ago. After what seemed like an arduous selection process, the organizers of the trip had narrowed it down to 20 students (both M2s and M1s) and the fundraising began. The group received a grant from the medical school, and hosted several different fundraisers to cover the cost of medical supplies as well as the plane tickets to get us down there. By the beginning of February, we were all pretty tired of organizational meetings, but there always seemed to be just a few more things that we hadn't covered. As it turns out, our trip went much more smoothly thanks to the dedication of our fearless leaders and their interminable meetings, but hindsight is infinitely clearer than foresight...

All of the sudden it was February 17th and I had a lot of packing to do. I had acquired a mosquito net, which seemed exceedingly exotic and exciting. I'd also started my course of chloroquin (slighly less exciting, but necessary). I'd also asked Alicia if she thought she might have time to take me and another group member to the airport. She said it would probably be fine and asked what time. When I told her I needed to be at the airport at 4:00am she said that she didn't think she had plans then, but that she'd need to get back to me.

All 20 students, one of our doctors (the other flew from NY) and her family arrived at the airport just in time for them to tell us that we couldn't check in until 4:30. Jerks... So we sat around with our 28 boxes of medical supplies and a million suitcases waiting. Once we got everything checked it was as though the weight of 28 boxes of medical supplies had been lifted from our arms. (Medical school has killed my sense of metaphor.) We flew to Atlanta and then into Santo Domingo.

After several hours of waiting for the rental vans (who knows what happened... I didn't organize the trip...) we finally got on the road and drove the church camp where we stayed. It was a luxurious resort that featured running salt water from the ocean, occasional electricity, and toilets and showers within the confines of the cabins. We all stayed in one cabin with the boys and girls separated by a wall. It was close to the beach, which was nice. (Although unfortunately it put Al, my new M2 friend, painfully close to a jellyfish...)

Monday through Friday we ran a clinic in a small community outside of Santo Domingo. We'd divided one room of the schoolhouse into 7 exam rooms and set up a little pharmacy. (I say we, but most of us just followed directions. Kate and Courtney, two of the M2s masterminded the clinic...) Teams of medical students saw the patients (took histories and did focused physical exams) and then presented to the doctors. It was an amazing experience and I definitely learned a lot. At the very least I can identify fungal infections of the scalp with some certainty. I also know that parasites should show up in poop. (I also learned other, more philosophical lessons, but those will come later.)

The last few days in the DR were spent up on the north coast (Sosua) in a hotel that actually had running hot fresh water. It was an amazing experience. We spent a ton of time on the beach. I got sunburned in spite of my religious application of SPF 45, but I still had a great time. Perhaps most importantly, I got to know some amazing folks who, in spite of their busy schedules, I will force to routinely hang out with me.

As far as what I really learned from the trip, it's hard to express. I've been interested in international work for a long time, I spent a few months working as a volunteer in Honduras before my junior year of college. Working in a location that is so resource poor never fails to remind me not only of how much work must be done abroad, but also at home. It may be emotionally easier to work in other countries with women who are afraid to ask their partners to use condoms, but they exist all over the world. It's easy to criticize a system in another country where the lighter your skin is, the higher up in society you sit. Yet racism, sexism, and prejudice of every other form exists everywhere, it's just more well hidden in some places than in others. There's so little that can be done in a week. We brought a total of 23,000 vitamins. It sounds like a lot, but every patient only got enough for a month. We gave some patients pain medicines for their headaches and body aches, but they are a result of not having enough clean water to drink and working outside in the sun. It seems futile, but it doesn't make sense to stop doing it. So, when I come back, I like to think I've reached at least one person, worked with her to make her world a safer place. I can usually picture one face who really seemed to understand what I was saying, and whose story resonated particularly with me. And, if I haven't changed anything, perhaps it's worth it just to have renewed my resolve to do so.