Is it possible for a gay man to practice medicine?
The answer seems obvious, but sadly, there was a time when Michael Haymer, a third-year UCLA medical student, really wasn’t sure.
"I remember Googling the words, ‘Can a gay man be a doctor,’" said Haymer, who at the time was a struggling Orange County high school student. Having experienced rejection and discrimination from his peers after telling close friends that he was gay, he wondered if the disapproval and rejection he was experiencing would follow him as he pursued his professional calling.
"I just didn’t know what to expect."
Fast forward nearly a decade, and Haymer, who graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology in 2010, is now the epitome of a budding doctor. Currently starting his third year of studies at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and its PRIME program, he is also charting a pioneering course to improve health care and the hospital experience for members of the LGBT community.
Among his major undertakings, Haymer has worked to integrate transgender health into the curriculum at the medical school and organize presentations on culturally appropriate care of LGBT patients. He also organized, in a pre-med enrichment program for 80 disadvantaged college students, a lecture on LGBT health disparities.
Michael Haymer won the 2013 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award from the Academic Senate for his working leading the way in making Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center a welcoming place for LGBT patients and their families.
In addition, he served as co-president of MedGLO, UCLA’s gay and lesbian medical student organization, and medical student coordinator of Happy Feet Clinic, an undergraduate student organization originally developed by the UCLA-PRIME program that addresses foot health and complications from chronic diabetes among homeless individuals, undocumented day laborers and under-resourced communities in Los Angeles County.
But it doesn’t stop there.
After learning that the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was not yet fulfilling the core criteria for national recognition as a leader in LGBT health care equality according to standards set by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender advocacy group for equal rights, he worked with hospital administrators to fulfill all of the requirements in the HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index.
"I was motivated by people I met on the streets during my outreach, individuals I spoke with while conducting LGBT-related clinical research, and patients," said Haymer, "specifically transgender patients. UCLA has so many amazing resources to offer the LGBT community — from the Williams Institute to the LGBT Campus Resource Center. I wanted to show the greater community that UCLA Health has the capacity to be a leader, if not the leader, in LGBT-related health care."
To meet the core criteria set out by the HRC, Haymer developed a logic model that outlined the hospital’s strengths and deficits as they relate to LGBT patient policies and offered a step-by-step path for improvement. Along with MedGLO faculty advisor Dr. Allison Diamant and fellow co-president Joshua Khalili, Haymer presented these resources in a meeting with Dr. David Feinberg, president and CEO of the UCLA Health System.
Said Haymer of the hospital leader’s support for his plan, "He was so responsive, and all he wanted to do was help improve patient care."
The HRC has used Haymer’s logic model as an example for other health care organizations and has offered to publish it on it as a resource on its website.
For his work, Haymer has earned the 2013 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award, given annually by the UCLA Academic Senate to individuals who further a diverse, impartial and inclusive academic environment at UCLA. The faculty winner of this award is Professor Miguel Garcia-Garibay.
"I feel honored to be considered along with Dr. Garcia-Garibay, who has made it possible for students from community colleges to pursue their educational goals," said Haymer.
He also received the 2013 Janssen Therapeutics Scholarship from the Point Foundation, an organization that awards 26 annual scholarships to LGBT students from across the country. Fellow Bruin Gregory Davis, a J.D./M.A. joint-degree candidate in Afro-American studies and law, is also among this year’s Point Scholars.
These efforts have also translated into recognition for the UCLA Health System, which has just been named a "Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality" in the HRC’s sixth annual Healthcare Equality Index survey. The health system, one of a select group of 464 health care facilities nationwide to be named "equality leaders" by meeting all four core criteria, earned top marks for its commitment to equitable, inclusive care for LGBT patients and their families, who can face significant challenges in securing adequate health care, according to a news release issued July 11.
"Michael has embraced the transgender community that is often the target of ridicule, bullying and, as we witnessed recently in Hollywood, sometimes assault," said Dr. Sebastian Uijtdehaage, who nominated Haymer for the UCLA award. Uijtdehaage is an adjunct professor of medicine and director of research at the Center for Educational Development and Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine.
"Because of this stigma, they are disenfranchised from good medical care," Uijtdehaage said. "To make matters worse, physicians feel ill-prepared in caring for transgender patients. In the short time that Michael has been a medical student, he has already made a huge difference on campus. Thanks to Michael, transgender patients will now feel welcomed at our hospital and have gained access to the same superb care as everyone else."
Haymer’s path to UCLA wasn’t a direct one, but becoming a Bruin was a longtime goal.
"UCLA was kind of this beacon of hope and opportunity," said Haymer, who transferred to UCLA from a community college at the beginning of his junior year. "It seemed like a place that embodied a lot of the same interests and values that I had. Once I got here, it was the biggest accomplishment of my life at the time … Everything about UCLA just seemed right."
Haymer was raised in Fullerton by a single mother who lived with under-controlled or uncontrolled diabetes because she could not afford to pay for her children’s health insurance and premiums for her own care, even while working multiple jobs. Haymer vividly recalls taking ambulance trips to the hospital with his mother, including one instance when paramedics had to repeatedly restart her heart.
Sadly, his mother, whom he credits as being his inspiration for going into medicine, died last year. "Seeing her struggle with preventable problems really showed me that I could make a difference," he said.
For Haymer, who also experienced homelessness during his undergraduate years at UCLA, his drive to make a difference is reflected in his advocacy efforts for marginalized populations and in his desire to advance research in the field of transgender health care, which continues to be an underexplored field of study.
Haymer is currently conducting a nationwide survey among emergency medicine residents to assess their attitudes and knowledge regarding transgender patients. He said this needs-based assessment is important because much of the care that transgender people receive is done in emergency care departments.
"Most people don’t realize how diverse the transgender community is, and it’s important for me to understand that through research," Haymer said. "Transgender health experts have worked tirelessly to make evidence-based standards of care available online for all clinicians, yet a key barrier is that many providers do not see the ‘T’ in LGBT as a priority. After being rendered invisible for too long, transgender people deserve the dignity, respect, and understanding of the medical community. Just like UCLA gave me hope for a better future, my dream is that every transgender patient will recognize UCLA’s efforts and that other hospitals will exhibit the same courageous leadership to improve the health of all people."