A Brief Examination Of Homophobia In Medicine

DaVinciHeartThe latest edition of Academic Pediatrics reprints remarks Dr. Mark A. Schuster, head of general pediatrics at Boston Children's Hospital, made in 2010 about experiencing homophobia during medical school.

One story Schuster details in his remarks, delivered at the Children’s Hospital Boston GLBT & Friends Celebration, concerns a woman with symptoms of a herniated disc.

Though the surgeons were ready to operate, and the students ready to learn, a radiologist reversed his diagnosis because the woman appeared to be a lesbian, thus jeopardizing the woman's well-being.

The neurosurgeon abruptly canceled the operation. It turned out that the radiologist had reversed his reading. When pressed as to why he no longer saw what even a third-year medical student could see (that would be me), he confessed that the neurosurgeon had pressured him to change his read.

When our team met with the neurosurgeon, he was direct. He had seen what he assumed to be a lesbian novel at the patient’s bedside, and he wasn’t going to operate. His rationalization was that she might have inserted something into her urethra that caused her incontinence. He had no research or case studies to support his theory. He had no explanation for why a lesbian would do this. He had no explanation for why it wasn’t showing up on x-ray. He made it clear, though, that he wasn’t going to operate on a lesbian.

Dr. Pauline W. Chen at the New York Times says the reprinted Schuster speech "delivers unflinching, evenhanded descriptions of a profession that is committed to helping others, yet is also capable of treating some of its own as aberrant." Still, I would say being the patient in such a situation would be equally horrible, if not worse.

The woman in Schuster's story ended up getting the operation, for those who wondered. You can read more of his experience with this PDF.