ASPS to launch new PRIDE Forum for LGBTQIA+ members
Plastic surgery resident Arya Akhavan, MD, isn't the first doctor to have been warned about disclosing his sexual orientation before a residency interview – and chances are he won't be the last – but he did see an opportunity to open up a larger dialogue about diversity and inclusion.
"When I was applying to plastic surgery residencies, I didn't personally see any LGBTQIA+ representation among plastic surgery leadership, and I was advised to not mention my sexual orientation when applying," Dr. Akhavan recalls. "That was odd for me, given the work we do for transgender and gender-nonbinary patients; I would have expected to see more support and presence."
Struck by the lack of representation, Dr. Akhavan proposed an idea for the Society to form a committee for its LGBTQIA+ members and residents – an idea that quickly gained traction with leadership and has now resulted in the creation of the PRIDE Forum.
"It's an opportunity to not only increase LGBTQIA+ visibility and facilitate careers for LGBTQIA+ residents and young faculty, but also help to facilitate care for transgender and nonbinary patients," he says.
The directive of the new forum is to develop programming and resources to support LGBTQIA+ plastic surgeons and residents. Its mission is to support a community of LGBTQIA+ physicians who advance the field of reconstructive and restorative plastic surgery through education, advocacy and partnerships.
Forum members will maintain a virtual/online presence within ASPS, serving as a hub to connect LGBTQIA+ plastic surgeons worldwide. The forum will provide content specifically curated for LGBTQIA+ plastic surgeons and enable networking opportunities to facilitate an open exchange of lessons learned. By partnering with other ASPS committees and initiatives, the group will serve as a central voice to advocate for LGBTQIA+ plastic surgeons and patients. Through education and outreach, the forum will foster respect, equality and diversity across the specialty.
"I see this as another step in doing our best to ensure all our plastic surgeons are represented – much in the same way that we have forums and committees for many different groups of members," says ASPS/PSF Vice President of Health Policy & Advocacy Gregory Greco, DO. "I think it's important for our LGBTQIA+ members to have a space to gather – whether virtually or in person at meetings, where they can talk about issues such as how their practice might be affected by their lifestyle, or to share their own stories and insights."
Dr. Greco credits ASPS/PSF Vice President of Membership Steven Williams, MD, for doing everything not only to facilitate the creation of the forum, but to ensure that all groups feel as though they have representation in the Society.
'Start of something great'
Even as ASPS and other organizations increase efforts to support and foster diversity, longstanding prejudices can linger throughout working environments. A recent study from PRS Global Open reported that LGBTQIA+-identified residents and attendings still feel uncomfortable disclosing their sexual orientation to colleagues or bringing a same-sex partner to events – and that disclosing sexual orientation may have a negative impact on residency applications.
"Unfortunately, we still have room to improve with respect to LGBTQIA+ education within plastic surgery," Dr. Akhavan says. "This forum may take some time to develop, but I have full expectations that this will be the start of something great."
Samina Wahhab, MD, who is helping develop the PRIDE Forum, says the only way to ensure proper care for all patients is to understand different cultures and backgrounds, regardless of what differences may exist.
"As a group, we can help educate others about some of the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community with respect to professional relationships, challenges and patient care," she says. "We will provide support for those who need it and education for those who wish to be allies. Hopefully we can partner with other medical societies in the future, share our work and learn how they are addressing the same issues."
Dr. Greco says that despite some of the prejudices that might have existed in the past, he's encouraged by how Society leadership over the years continues to embrace diversity and inclusion. He also says he's impressed with the progress he's seen among young LGBTQIA+ plastic surgeons in recent years.
"In my role as the program director for Monmouth Medical Center and the associate program director of general surgery at Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, this past year I've interviewed about 150 applicants and I'll tell you that if they identify as LGBTQIA+, they lead with that," he notes. "When I was coming up 25 years ago, you never led with that. In fact, when I started practice, I was nervous about what effect being openly gay might have on business. Whatever concerns I might've had were pretty quickly allayed as a lot of patients found a certain level of comfort in the practice – moreover, patients care more about your expertise, training and outcomes than your sexual orientation. My sexual orientation never seemed to have been detrimental to my practice, but again, I'm not of the generation that would have led with that in an interview.
"As an established plastic surgeon and someone involved at the leadership level, I think my role in the forum is to help make sure we keep the doors open to young plastic surgeons who might be nervous or worried about acceptance," Dr. Greco adds. "I will say that before the first meeting of the PRIDE Forum, I was oddly unsure how I would feel about participating – I honestly thought I would feel like an outsider. Having listened to the discussion that took place and hearing the engagement and encouragement – and learning about the mentorship from many of our senior surgeons and leadership – I felt proud to be a part of this inaugural group."