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Interpretation of the current climate of RO and where we should be headed

Written by: Rachael Conger, MD and Petria Thompson, MD, PhD

What has been your experience through medical school/training as a member of the LGBTQ community?

As LGBTQ students, our experience through medical school and training, like most students with diverse backgrounds, has been to be the voice across all spaces that speaks up for our community. This has included organized efforts through campus groups which sought to educate our classmates, as well as faculty and staff, to some of the unique aspects specific to caring for LGBTQ patients. However, this unfortunately has involved protecting and advocating for ourselves and our community members when others in our educational spaces–including preceptors, patients, and administration–fail to recognize their lack of cultural competencies or worse, intentionally target folks identifying as LGBTQ. All of this being said, as queer women in sizable southern and midwestern cities at large medical institutions, we have had overall positive experiences in our education and training as it relates to our LGBTQ identities. We created a community amongst our LGBTQ peers, as well as with the larger community of underrepresented in medicine students, which allows for a unique sense of belonging and significant camaraderie with folks whose life experiences reflect one another.

What are your thoughts on LGBTQ inclusion in RO? Have you felt welcomed and supported?

During rotations in our respective radiation oncology departments, as well as the interview process within departments across the country, we have overall experienced rad onc to be outwardly LGBTQ inclusive. Our interest in LGBTQ research, with the ultimate goal of improving cancer care for queer patients, has been supported by our home programs and was often well-received during interviews. The field does, however, still retain a climate which reflects the more traditional and conservative conventions of the medical profession. The result of this is limited space for self-expression–a significant component of queer identity. So while individuals and individual programs within rad onc have been welcoming and supportive, there is in effect an unspoken, yet potent sense of conservatism in the field. This feels particularly poignant when peers on social media note their programs’ global acceptance of their varied gender-expressions, tattoos, colored hair, or piercings.

What are suggestions for those at all levels (resident, attending, physicist, etc) on how to improve the culture in RO?

In order to improve the culture in rad onc for LGBTQ, as well as other diverse-identifying folks, we would highly recommend the culture in radiation oncology move away from these conservative ideas of professionalism toward a more inclusive definition, which does not originate in whiteness, heteronormativity, nor cisgender norms. Additionally, the most important thing we can do for each other as people of all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, and abilities, is to speak up when confronted with unacceptable conduct. In doing so, we better the culture of the field, which ultimately encourages further minority interest and thus greater diversity and inclusion. As an example, a patient once said he stopped shopping at Target ever since they started letting “men use the women’s restroom.” The attending in the room did not say anything to advocate for the trans community that the patient was attacking, despite debriefing after the patient encounter that she thought the comment was inappropriate. We understand that these situations can be challenging to navigate, and ultimately as physicians we want to be respectful to all of our patients, but we must always stand up for vulnerable populations, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it tells other folks, who might be in the room, that you belong and you will be respected.

Guidance for advocacy groups

How can we better support the LGBTQ community through the mission of SWRO? How do you feel the #MeToo // #iLookLikeASurgeon // #WomenWhoCurie and other recently formed advocacy groups can support + welcome the LGBTQ community?

Inviting us to pen this blog post is a great way to show SWRO’s interest in supporting and uplifting the rad onc LGBTQ community! That being said, as previously mentioned, diverse people shoulder the burden of education for diverse issues, resulting in labor often at the expense of work in their own field and research interests. This minority tax compounds on the experience of folks already struggling to navigate professional and academic spaces that are majority white, heterosexual, and cisgender. Thus, we would encourage SWRO and movements such as #MeToo, #iLookLikeASurgeon, and #WomenWhoCurie, to unburden their minority colleagues of this responsibility and take these tasks on without relying solely on the experiences of minoritized folks. In order to advocate for or provide education regarding a particular community, a person does not need to be of said background, they need only seek out materials already produced by that community and then amplify that work through their various platforms. We are incredibly grateful for our allies in these professional spaces and want to thank SWRO for this opportunity to share our experiences.


Rachael Conger, MD is currently a Transitional Year resident at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI. Next year she will be starting her radiation oncology training at the University of California San Francisco. She completed her undergraduate degree in History at the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2015 and received her medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In between undergrad and medical school, she learned a little bit of German and spent a few months in Berlin forming incredible new friendships and finding out that it's her very favorite place in the world. She is very excited to be spreading her midwestern wings to train on the West Coast.

In her free time, Rachael enjoys showering her beautifully handsome cat in kitty gifts and love, brewing uniquely delicious beer with her friends (in the fermenter now is a spicy IPA), reading and watching historic books and films, as well as getting outside to enjoy the mirad of weather that comes with all the Wisconsin seasons, this has most recently included sailing Ensigns on Lake Michigan. She is passionate about making a difference in health equity for underserved communities, as well as empowering and uplifting groups historically excluded from medical education and training.

Petria Thompson, MD/PhD (she/her) is a recent graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Medical Scientist Training Program. She served as Region X director for the Student National Medical Association. In this role, she spearheaded initiatives to fill increase awareness of health equity via educational programming and direct service. She is a recipient of the Levi Watkins Jr., M.D. Diversity Award and is a member of GHHS and AOA. She is currently completing a preliminary medicine year at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco, followed by a Radiation Oncology residency at UCSF. She hopes to combine her basic science expertise with her interest in health equity.


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