Life in 2020 as an LGBTQ+ medical student: Gaining experience and living with purpose through a pandemic and social change
For his first two years of medical school at the University of Minnesota, Mitchell Moe spent most of his time sitting through lectures day after day and studying hour and hour afterwards. Now this year is a pivotal one for Mitchell as he prepares to start his clinical rotations, gain hands-on experience, and see healthcare first-hand.
Pivotal, too, because of this moment in history, the larger environment surrounding his learning experience, and the forces that will influence his practice for the rest of his life. Mitchell is joining healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a period of social unrest and growing focus on equity and justice.
Although he is nervous for the next step, Mitchell sees this time as a unique and unparalleled opportunity for learning. His perspectives are shaped in part by growing up as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The pandemic has shown a spotlight on the various disparities and inequities in our society, better informing me of how I can advocate for future patients in addressing these issues,” said Mitchell.
Finding his calling
Disparities and inequities are something Mitchell experienced firsthand growing up in rural Minnesota.
“When I was secretly questioning my identity, I did not have a safe space as a patient,” said Mitchell. “Although I wanted to talk to someone about it, I never did.” He was never asked during clinical evaluations, didn’t see diversity in his healthcare team, and just didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up.
Based on eye-opening experiences he had at Hennepin Healthcare in a pre-med program, Mitchell knows that it is the right place for his formative years as a physician. As an undergraduate at St. Olaf College, he participated in our Rockswold Health Scholars Program where he interned in Dr. Fred Apple’s cardiac biomarker trials lab. He reflected on those experiences in his applications:
“I followed numerous physicians in a variety of specialties and settings that summer at Hennepin, and there was never a day I was not completely inspired by the care I saw,” said Mitchell. “Physicians like Dr. Meghan Walsh, Dr. Danielle Robertshaw, and Dr. Haylee Veazey showed me what it meant to create safe spaces and provide patient-centered care, free of bias and assumption.”
Finding the right place to learn
He knew all along that he would apply for Hennepin Healthcare’s HeLIX program for his third-year clerkship. HeLIX stands for Hennepin Longitudinal Integrated Experience, which means that Mitchell will get to know patients across a longer period of time through interrelated clinical experiences. It is designed for physicians committed to the care of medically and socially complex underserved patients – an ideal program for someone like Mitchell who is pursuing a career in primary care with a focus on HIV care and LGBTQ+ healthcare.
Although HeLIX is usually a 10-month program, it will be shortened somewhat due to COVID-19. In the meantime, the HeLIX students got to volunteer with the Minnesota Department of Health to do COVID-19 contract tracing for four weeks.
“Not only did I learn about the logistics for symptoms and onset of illness, isolation and quarantine timelines, and data collection for potential outbreaks, but I also learned a lot from seeing who was infected and what these patients told me during the phone interviews,” said Mitchell. “I learned that becoming infected with COVID-19 is so much more complex and burdensome than I had initially imagined.”
Finding his way
The upcoming transition out of the classroom environment is exciting for Mitchell. The patient interaction will help him reconnect with why he decided to pursue this career in the first place, and it will also give him much needed social interaction after multiple months of minimal contact with the outside world due to COVID-19 and the demands of medical school. At the same time, he expects what he sees during the pandemic to be painful and challenging both personally and professionally.
“I have been incredibly privileged to not have had to see very much first-hand how the pandemic is affecting our society,” said Mitchell. “While I know it will be a good learning experience and an important aspect of being a physician, I am nervous about seeing such suffering and loss.”
Medical school is already a stressful time, and for Mitchell that will be compounded by the pain of a pandemic and social tensions. He says that practicing self-care has been an important part of his medical school experience and that running, staying connected with friends, and exploring the Twin Cities will be integral to coping with the stress he expects in the weeks to come.
Mitchell will soon be starting a virtual curriculum for rotations like Pediatrics and OB/GYN until he is able to enter the clinical environment, which will likely be in late August. For Mitchell, this is just the beginning of a life dedicated to truly listening to patients, learning what their needs are, and advocating to address those needs.
“The white coat carries a significant amount of responsibility, trust, and voice in our society, and I am determined to not let this soon-to-be acquired platform go without continuous use for the remainder of my life,” said Mitchell.