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Student Life

Out at work: being a gay doctor

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 18 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4102
  1. David Brill, second year graduate medical student
  1. 1St George’s, University of London

How life has changed for gay doctors in the UK over the past 20 years

Twenty years have passed since Daniel Saunders wrote for the Student BMJ, and this time there’s a crucial difference.

In 1995, he wrote anonymously about being a gay medical student, for fear that revealing his name might damage his career prospects and alienate his colleagues.1 Now, he says he can be “open and honest” about his sexuality, as he reflects on two decades of progress for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) doctors and students in the United Kingdom.

“People were very, very afraid [back then],” says Saunders, now a consultant oncologist at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. “Medicine was still very much a profession where it was largely not accepted to be out as a gay man or a lesbian woman. We used to meet in secret because people were very concerned about disclosure and the impact it might have on the way they were dealt with at work.”


Much of this progress can be attributed to a sea change in public attitudes towards homosexuality. Changes to UK law have also had a huge impact, culminating in the Equality Act 2010 making it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of sexuality.

Coupled with this, career progression in medicine has moved from “word of mouth” to a more transparent, competency based approach, which has further reduced discrimination of all kinds—including overt homophobia, Saunders says.

For many, the 2013 legalisation of same sex marriage in England has been an even more important step, and provided additional impetus to be open with colleagues.

Tom Swaine, a fifth year medical student at Barts and the London School of Medicine, says dealing with his sexuality with colleagues has become much easier now that he can …

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