Michael Haymer is on course to be one amazing doctor. In his time at UCLA, he has served as co-president of the gay and lesbian student organization; medical student coordinator of Happy Feet Clinic, which addresses foot health and other complications from diabetes in the homeless, undocumented workers, and other underserved communities; worked to add transgender health issues to the medical school curriculum; organized lectures on how to better care for LGBT patients; and set up an enrichment program for pre-med students regarding health disparities in the LGBT community.
Not bad for a medical student in his third year, especially one who once wondered if a gay man could be a doctor at all.
That isn’t nearly the end of his list of achievements, either; after learning about the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), and that the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was not fulfilling all of the requirements, he began working with the hospital to remedy that.
In an interview with UCLA Today, Haymer said, “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, 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 all of HEI’s requirements as efficiently as possible, Haymer created a logic model that clearly depicted the hospital’s strengths and weaknesses in regards to LGBT patient and employee policies, as well as spelling out, step by step, what needed to be done to improve, and presented it in a meeting with the president and CEO of the UCLA Health System, Dr. David Feinberg.
According to Haymer, “He was so responsive, and all he wanted to do was help improve patient care.” His suggestions were put into practice, which not only won UCLA the title of Leader in Healthcare Equality for 2013, but impressed the HRC sufficiently that it has used his logic model as an example for other healthcare providers, and has expressed interest in putting it on its website as a resource. Haymer himself won the 2013 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award, an annual award granted by UCLA.
The member of the facility who nominated him, Dr. Sebastian Uijtdehaage, said that Haymer “has embraced the transgender community that is often the target of ridicule, bullying and, as we witnessed recently in Hollywood, sometimes assault. Because of this stigma, they are disenfranchised from good medical care. 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 was inspired in part by his own experience with rejection and stigma, having had his share of it after coming out to his friends as gay; because of it, he wondered if he even could become a doctor, or if the rejection he had already seen would get in his way. “UCLA was kind of this beacon of hope and opportunity,” he said.
His inspiration for going into medicine was his mother, whose diabetes often went uncontrolled because as a single parent, she couldn’t afford to pay for health insurance for both her children and herself, even while working two or more jobs. Sadly, she died in 2012. “Seeing her struggle with preventable problems really showed me that I could make a difference,” he said.
Haymer has also experienced being homeless himself, while an undergrad at UCLA. Though not transgender himself, he is a dedicated advocate for marginalized populations, and the transgender community has still been far too little studied.
To help alleviate that, Haymer is currently working on a nationwide study to determine emergency workers’ knowledge and attitudes about transgender patients.
“Most people don’t realize how diverse the transgender community is, and it’s important for me to understand that through research,” he 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.”
The full HEI 2013 report can be downloaded here.