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.


  1. luminum says

    Just chilling. That neurosurgeon should have been banned from practicing medicine for so blatantly and disgustingly violating his Hippocratic Oath. If you can’t live by the ethics of your own chosen profession, find something else to do. I know a few toilets that need cleaning.

  2. Max says

    Sue him.
    Fire him.
    Revoke his license.
    Bar him from ever working as a doctor/treating people.

  3. NDMD says

    As a medical student who is very much open and out, ive been fortunate not to experience problems, but being in NYC skews that perspective a bit towards the tolerant side. But I would imagine the same for most large university institutions as this point.

  4. Jesse says

    Dr. Schuster, if you read this, please know that your speech is an example not of courage, but of cowardice. You set forth accounts of gross departures from accepted standards of care, of appalling discrimination, and of harassment in public institutions and you don’t name a single perpetrator. None of the acts you describe is private or benign. On the contrary, these acts represent an obvious danger to public health. But you conceal the identities of the perpetrators.

    Although some of the perpetrators may be dead or retired, others may very well be alive and in positions to continue these practices today. Indeed, your reference to the former dean of the JFK School of Government could have been to one of 2 individuals, both of whom are very much alive and active.

    Why don’t you name the dean who treated gay K-school students with such contempt? Why don’t you name the doctor who nearly derailed your entire career by taking over your residency application process and then, after learning that you are gay, refusing to give you a recommendation? Why don’t you name the doctor who refused to provide care to a woman in severe pain? It isn’t a matter of revenge; it is a question of protecting the patients, students and members of the general public with whom these perpetrators may be interacting today.

    Sorry, but if you were looking for laurels, you won’t get them, at least not from me. You were brave to come out of the closet when you did, but that bravery seems to have left you when it came time to name names.

  5. jack says

    I consider myself lucky. I live in Phila and my Primary Care doctor is bright gay man who only refers his patients to specialists that he knows are competent and gay or gay friendly. My advice is to try to find a competent gay primary care doctor. Thats easy in the big cities. Mabye a lot harder in the rural areas.

  6. wimsy says

    Colossal arrogance. Self-righteous sanctimony. God Complex run amuck.

    Try to guess what political party that A-hole supports.