Multitude of Selves: Applying to Residencies as an LGBTQ+ Medical Student

Leah Kuntz

Finding a program that is a good fit while LGBTQ+ may be more difficult than it seems…

CONFERENCE REPORTER

“You’re not simply a queer person; you are a multitude of selves, all trying to find a home that would you feel safe, secure, and that you will learn in and become the best psychiatrist that you can be,” said Marshall Forstein, MD, at the 2021 American Psychiatric Association Virtual Annual Meeting.

Forstein, who is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Vice Chair for Education and Program Director of Adult Psychiatry Residency at Cambridge Health Alliance, led the session, “LGBTQ+ Medical Students and Applying to Psychiatry Residency.” He was joined by 4 students: Terrance W. Embry, MS; Allison Rhodes; Teddy G. Goetz, MS; and Matthew Abrams, all of whom discussed how to select and vet psychiatry residency programs as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Their top tip? Finding a supportive environment that not just tolerated their identity, but celebrated it.

“It’s important that, across the US, no matter where you are, even if it’s a conservative area, that residency programs are actively thinking about how to support their students,” said Abrams.

“I thought that I needed to hide my identity in order to have professional advancement,” admitted Embry, in reference to applying to medical school. His policy has changed: He sought residencies that went beyond tolerating him.

Other tips and questions to keep in mind when applying for residency include:

-Find a program that openly shares their LGBTQ+ support. Do they ask for pronouns? Do they have an LGBTQ+ curriculum? Do they share their support on social media? Are there LGBTQ+ staff that serve as mentors?
-Make sure the program supports diversity of all kinds. If a program seems discriminatory to one group, what prevents them from discriminating against others?

-Find a location in which you feel safe. Is the community at large welcoming? Would you feel comfortable in that location of the United States?

-After interviews, film a 1-minute reaction clip. This will help remind you of your own excitement, neutrality, or disappointment about the experience.

-Coordinate health insurance. If a program’s health insurance does not cover LGBTQ+ needs, it might not be a good fit.

-Talk to previous or current residents, specifically LGBTQ+ residents. Have they experienced microaggressions in the program? Were they outed by staff, or called by the incorrect name?

Forstein also shared that he did not believe coming out is a necessary step in advancing a career in psychiatry.

“It’s about your authenticity with wherever you are on that continuum of coming out,” Forstein said, “which is a lifelong process.”

The panel expressed their hope that their own experiences and tips can help other members of the LGBTQ+ community find their homes in psychiatry.