When I applied to be an internal medicine physician at Rush University Medical Center, I updated my CV to add that I had an “interest in LGBT health care.”
I began my career in a fairly conservative suburban practice where I was limited in my ability to serve the LGBT population openly. Throughout that time, my sexual orientation was a topic that was seldom discussed or brought up. It became frustrating to me that as a gay physician, I was not doing everything I could to be the best ally and advocate for the LGBT community.
I was aware, of course, of the health care disparities facing the community — from access to care to lack of education of health care providers. When I made the commitment to better serve the LGBT community, I quickly learned what limited resources existed in the world of medicine. Only very recently have medical schools begun to incorporate LGBT-focused diversity training into their curriculums, and even then, it is only provided at a limited number of schools.
Last week marked the eighth consecutive time that Rush University Medical Center was named a Leader in LGBT Health Equality by the Human Rights Campaign, and Rush Oak Park Hospital‘s third consecutive time receiving the annual designation. While this honor might not seem like breaking news after eight years, it is important to recognize exactly what leader status means for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning community.
This designation signifies that Rush has made a genuine, longstanding commitment to nondiscrimination policies for both patients and employees regarding sexual orientation and gender identity/expression; training in LGBT patient-centered care; and equal visitation policies for all families. This commitment is not something people should take for granted, even after eight years, given that only 496 hospitals or health systems have earned leader status out of nearly 5,700 hospitals nationwide, and nearly a third of 2016’s leaders earned the status for the first time.
What’s more, there are still four states without any hospitals with this status. These numbers suggest, and stories in the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index confirm, that the LGBTQ community still experiences discrimination towards and health care inequities.
Progress and setbacks for LGBTQ equality
In fact, the LGBTQ community still faces discrimination in both social and health policy. While the national winds have been moving in the direction of improving the lives of the LGBTQ population — most evident in the Supreme Court of the United States ruling last June that made marriage equality the law of the land — many policies on the regional and state level are challenging the rights of the LGBTQ population.
When Reginald “Hats” Adams, director of community affairs, joined Rush 45 years ago, diversity wasn’t a common term, and making an effort to maintain a culture of inclusion where everyone has equal access to opportunities was not a performance goal for all employees, as it is today. Nonetheless, Adams strived to promote diversity through his work and in his life, not because it was required, but simply because he felt it was the right thing to do.
In the 1980s, Adams saw there was a disparity in the science and math education that children were receiving in some areas of Chicago, including West Side neighborhoods around Rush. Since science and math are the core tenets of careers in health care, kids with limited education and exposure to those subjects have less of an opportunity to choose a health care profession. Working with the leadership at Rush, Adams initiated the Science and Math Education (SAME) Network, which engages children in these subjects at a young age by providing schools with training and equipment to improve how they teach science and math.
“He wanted to fill a void in the education of young people and prepare them for careers in the areas of math, science, technology and health care,” says Paula Brown, manager of Equal Opportunity Programs at Rush.
Thanksgiving Day is a distant memory by now, but one of the best traditions of that holiday comes to mind and seems particularly appropriate to me now. That tradition is to reminisce about what we are particularly grateful for, and as the name of the holiday literally implies, to engage in some “thanks giving” as a result. So let me take a minute to do just that.
I am grateful for the thousands of colleagues at Rush University Medical Center whose commitment to “the patient comes first” seems as strong to me as it did 40 years ago, when I recall that same message being delivered by then-president Dr. James A. Campbell in my new employee orientation session. This guiding principle has been key in making Rush the outstanding patient care organization that it is and has made being affiliated with it for so long such a privilege. Thanks to each and every one of you.