Happy Pride Month! As we celebrate, we want to emphasize the rich contributions of LGBTQ+ physicians within our community. Their influence reaches far beyond clinical care - they are enriching education, influencing research, and shaping policy for greater inclusivity. This month, we're elevating their voices and their invaluable work, amplifying the diversity they bring to our healthcare system. Join us as we honor their unique perspectives, celebrate their accomplishments, and strive for a healthcare environment where everyone feels acknowledged and embraced.
This week, we're highlighting Family Medicine Physician, Benjamin Silverberg, MD, MSc, FAAFP, FCUCM.
Dr. Silverberg holds an impressive range of roles across West Virginia University and numerous professional organizations. He is an Associate Professor in the Division of Ambulatory Operations within the Department of Emergency Medicine and also serves as the Medical Director for the Division of Physician Assistant Studies in the Department of Human Performance at West Virginia University. His leadership extends beyond academia, with him currently serving as the President of the West Virginia Academy of Family Physicians and President-Elect of the Mid-Atlantic College Health Association.
Dr. Silverberg is also the Chair-Elect for the Clinical Medicine Section of the American College Health Association, demonstrating his broad influence in the field of medical and health education and clinical practice.
How has LGBTQ+ History influenced your life as a physician?
My generation grew up in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, so that was the only association many people had with LGBTQ+ individuals. And though many powerful national leaders failed to respond in a thoughtful and productive way, various grassroots efforts emerged to unite the community and advocate for education and treatment. We still work to shift away from conflating LGBTQ+ health with sexual health (though of course there is overlap, as with any other population), but must respect the hard lessons learned over the years. I still remember when a same-sex kiss on television was news-worthy, or a gender non-binary character only appeared for comic relief. Social consciousness continues to develop, and I hope that as leaders and educators ourselves, we physicians can normalize these once-hushed conversations and break down barriers for care to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or practice, and gender identity or expression.
Why is it important to you that we celebrate Pride Month in medicine?
During my training, health concerns for LGBTQ+ populations were rarely ever mentioned and educational opportunities were even less common. I had no out LGBTQ+ mentors, and I vividly remember being told as a patient myself, "I don't know how to take care of someone like you." I hate to acknowledge it, but there's also a commonality of experience that many of us with an LGBTQ+ identity have, without any kind of interaction with the culprit previously, been called a derogatory epithet from a moving vehicle. All of these factors could easily result in someone remaining closeted their whole life, being unable to share their authentic self with others. That is why I celebrate Pride.
I came out on my own timeline and now put myself forth as an example to others who are not yet ready. By no means do I speak for everyone, nor am I perfect, but it is so important for other LGBTQ+ folks to see that they could be leaders, too. Minority populations need representation and role models and Pride has helped to advance this effort. I am still grateful to those who helped me figure out who I am, and we can help others do the same, with sincere caring and with pride.
What can we do to support LGBTQ+ individuals pursuing or interested in pursuing medicine?
As physicians, we occupy a privileged place. To be a person worth emulating but also aware of your own weaknesses and mistakes is hard. To help elevate other voices without speaking for others can also be tricky. So the first thing to do is listen.
LGBTQ+ individuals can be "hidden" (by choice or by necessity), but they always have existed and will continue to do so. Minorities are often left to repair the damage done by others through institutionalized racism and bigotry, but sharing these efforts with the next generation can be helpful. Put another way, many trainees don't get to choose what research projects they participate in, having to find a mentor who works on something they're interested in or otherwise can go along with. So if LGBTQ+ and ally clinicians offer more opportunities for trainees to pursue their own interests in LGBTQ+ health, we can help develop their passions and probably learn something along the way ourselves. Be proud of your mentees, just as we are proud of those who came before us.
Are there any organizations you would like to highlight?
OutCare is a nationwide nonprofit organization that works to link LGBTQ+ patients to culturally-humble providers and also provides education on LGBTQ+ topics to these clinicians. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) works to unite health educators and clinicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) also supports sex and gender minorities by providing education, toolkits, and legislative advocacy. Recognizing that identity development occurs during (but is not limited to) adolescence, the American College Health Association (ACHA) and the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) provide valuable resources for patients and clinicians alike.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I am so happy to see LGBTQ+ health topics appear with increasing frequency in CME programs. After attending one session some years ago, I spoke with the lecturer and asked to work with him. It is through this relationship that I first shared the stage at a national conference. Over the following years, I applied to teach whenever I could. I am pleased to report that, mixing my passion for education with advocacy for minority populations, I recently served as the course chair for an AAFP on-demand course on LGBTQ+ health. I encourage everyone to keep trying; don't get discouraged by rejection. You will find success and a way to highlight the issues that matter to you.