Education And Debate

Wellbeing of gay, lesbian, and bisexual doctorsCommentary: The medical profession should face up to its own homophobia

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 17 February 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:422

Wellbeing of gay, lesbian, and bisexual doctors

  1. Brian P Burke, general internist (,
  2. Jocelyn C White, internistb
  1. a Legacy Clinic Northwest, 1130 NW 22nd Ave, Suite 220, Portland, OR 97210, USA
  2. b Oregon Health Sciences University, Columbia University, Joseph L Mailman School of Public Health, Legacy Portland Hospitals, 1015 NW 22nd Ave, R-200, Portland, OR 97210, USA
  3. Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists, PO Box 5606, London W4 1WY
  1. Correspondence to: B P Burke

    Gay, lesbian, and bisexual doctors have long had a largely covert presence within the medical profession; their visibility is a relatively recent phenomenon. The American Psychiatric Association's landmark decision in 1973 to remove homosexuality from the nomenclature of psychiatric disorders was a major catalyst for this, allowing homosexual and bisexual doctors to take tentative steps into the culture at large. A search of the medical literature yields information on medical attitudes towards homosexual and bisexual patients, but little about homosexual and bisexual doctors themselves. Their challenges and triumphs are likely to be similar to those of other minority groups within the profession, except that they can choose whether to make their minority status known to patients and colleagues. 1 2

    Although societal tolerance towards sexual minorities has greatly improved since 1973, “coming out” as a homosexual or bisexual doctor remains a difficult decision, with both personal and professional consequences. Such doctors have to ask themselves several questions in deciding whether to come out:

    • If I come out during medical school will it affect my grades or my ability to get into a competitive residency programme?

    • Will I have the support of my classmates or will I be ostracised?

    • Can I even be a homosexual or bisexual paediatrician, gynaecologist, or urologist?

    • If I become a specialist, will my openness negatively affect referrals to me from colleagues?

    • Will patients shun me?

    • Can I practise in a small town, or am I consigned to a large metropolitan area?

    Wellbeing implies personal and professional satisfaction and the ability to effectively integrate the two to form satisfying relationships with patients and colleagues and to attain their respect. In this article we review the literature on those factors most likely to affect the wellbeing of gay, lesbian, and bisexual doctors: homophobia, the difficulties encountered by homosexual …

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