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This Doctor Can: Proud to be a physician

This London Pride, Dr Iain Lawrie, president of the Association for Palliative Medicine, reflected on what it’s like to be part of the medical LGBT community.

Entering medical school at the age of 24, I knew I was gay but was not yet open, happy or settled with it in my own mind. How would this impact on me, how would my fellow students react, would it affect my progress? As it turned out, at university no one really gave a damn, but I didn’t make my sexuality widely known on clinical placements. Why? For my fear of possible reactions.

Starting out as a ‘mature’ house officer (as we were in those days), I tried to go with the flow and fit in. I’d worked before (as a physiotherapist), I’d had status, and I’d had a career. But I didn’t date people, and I said nothing about the real me; my colleagues only knew one part of me.

GP training was particularly difficult as everyone expected me to produce a wife at practice events, be excited about offers of a place in a GP Partnership, or settle down in leafy market towns with a wife and kids.

My specialty training in palliative medicine was different, but not quite ‘there’ yet. My peers knew I was gay, and no one had a problem with it, but I was nervous about the potential impact on my career path if it was more widely discussed, as some people still held ‘views’ that, quite frankly, would be laughed at now.

What did I expect? I certainly didn’t want my sexuality to be highlighted, scrutinised, be the subject of discussion and, possibly, be the definition of me. But as it turned out, my registrar colleagues were amazing, and my clinical placement supervisors weren’t bad either.

I took up my consultant job (one which I still hold, same place, same fantastic colleagues) in 2008. Was I proud to be a consultant in palliative medicine – you betcha! But, without me thinking about it, I also became comfortable being a gay consultant. I talked about my partner (now husband) in meetings as anyone else would do, I mentioned his work, I mentioned our home life – it all just became a natural part of my conversations.

The reaction? Nothing… nada… nil. People who work with you, know you and trust you don’t really care about your sexuality or home life (unless something is wrong, and then they care big style).

We are so much more than our race, religion or sexuality (as well as other things!). No one in the NHS cares about our differences, as long as we do a good job.

It’s important to recognise that it’s not always so easy for everyone, and that’s why we need the communities and support available in the NHS for LGBT people (e.g. GLADD and the NHS LGBT Network). There are also some fantastic NHS-wide projects aimed at encouraging diversity and inclusion such as the NHS Rainbow Badge project.

And of course, the RCP’s This Doctor Can campaign, which I hope will offer any doctors who doubt their ability to succeed due to their ethnicity, age, gender or sexuality, to be inspired and encouraged to reach their potential.

Happy Pride, everyone!

Would you like to share your experience of becoming a doctor? Get in touch on Twitter via @thisdoctorcan.