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WHO I AM: Dr. Chase Anderson Talks LGBTQIA+ Mentorship, Pride, and the Power of Twitter

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We are in our second week of Pride Month here at Scrubs Mag. We’ve been sharing thoughtful interviews from a variety of exceptional leaders and influencers from the LGBTQIA+ healthcare community, and our chat with Dr. Chase Anderson was no exception.

Scrubs Mag: How do you identify, and what are your pronouns?

Dr. Chase Anderson: I’m a gay, African American cisgender male, and my pronouns are he/him/his.

SM: What made you pursue a career in healthcare?

CA: I was working on an experiment with melanoma cells, and hadn’t seen my friends in a week. That’s when I realized I was meant to be in a profession that lets me be around people. I wanted to sit with people day in and day out and hold space for them, all while using medicine and the power of their narratives to help them heal. I wanted to be someone who provided space for people’s fears, as well as their hopes and dreams.

SM: What does it mean to you to be an LGBTQIA+ healthcare provider?

CA: I knew there would be struggles, being openly myself in the medical field, yet I did so anyway because I knew that one day, LGBTQ+ people would be able to go through medicine being themselves from the get-go.

SM: What role or responsibility, if any, do you feel you have?

CA: I used to feel as though I had to be the perfect gay person. I had to make sure no one felt uncomfortable with my gayness. I had to have the perfect grades. I had to constantly backflip through invisible hoops to make people who were discriminating against me feel comfortable. That mentality drove me into the ground in medical school and residency.

At MIT, I realized that my responsibility was to be myself, because that was the best I had to offer. So, now in fellowship, I feel as though my responsibility is to protect those who cannot speak for themselves, to ignore but leave the door open to change, those who seek to silence me or be bigoted towards me, and to help us dream of a more united world and make that world a reality. My role is to be someone who reminds us to be human in medicine – and I do that through being openly gay.

SM: Did you face many challenges balancing medical school and your daily life, while being out?

CA: During my residency, I was severely depressed and suicidal every day because of discrimination I had faced, and I felt stuck. One of my friends said, “You’ve worked for years here to try to change people, to change the system. You’ve made strides and changes, but what if you could have used all that effort on 50+ LGBTQ+ people who wanted and were ready for your help?”

Those words stay with me whenever I’m about to face a problem around discrimination. It changed my whole mentality about “fixing the system,” a minority tax all minoritized physicians and trainees feel. Those words help me remind myself of who I am here to help – those who have been made to feel alone. It is not my job to coddle those who have made the minoritized feel alone.

SM: What does Pride mean to you?

CA: Pride means showing up authentically every day. It is not always easy. It does not always work out the way we want. It is not always safe, and we must keep that in mind for those who cannot live openly. But, personally, no matter the cost, Pride has meant showing up as myself and realizing that helps others to show up as themselves.

SM: Why is celebrating Pride important?

CA: We are coming out of a pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people due to destructive leadership. We are coming out of four years with constant attacks against minoritized people being normalized. Celebrating who we are, despite the challenges, reminds us of who we are. Celebrating Pride reminds us of how far we have come, to be proud of who we are now, and to forever look towards creating a better future.

SM: With last year’s official events canceled, and this year’s scaled back due to COVID-19, how are you planning on celebrating?

CA: This will be my first year living in San Francisco during Pride, with everything being open! I moved here last year, and everything was shut down at the time. So, this year, some friends and I are going to some of the parties that are happening and other events, and I’m so excited. I fully expect dancing, including Ariana, Gaga, and Dua Lipa.

SM: What has this past year meant to you personally, with the global health pandemic & major racial movement?

CA: Being a black, gay physician during the pandemic has meant figuring out quickly how to leverage my privileges and voice that I have for others who have been silenced. The medical field needs to be part of leading that mission of change, yet we haven’t even rooted out or openly rejected the rot destroying our own house.

SM: Do you feel a responsibility to be a role model and mentor for other black and gay individuals?

CA: I feel a responsibility to humanity; however, I also have to remember that we do not have enough minoritized mentors for the people needing mentorship, and that I cannot do everything for everyone, although I wish I could. I cannot be everything to everyone, I cannot be the perfect role model, because I am human and will make mistakes. But I will forever hold in my heart my mission to help as many people as I can along this journey we call life.

SM: You were named one of the top 20 Black Physician Social Media Influencers by Medscape. What significance has social media, specifically Twitter, played in your advocacy work?

CA: Social media changed my life. I wrote about this in a piece titled “A Black, Gay, Unicorn-Phoenix Psychiatry Resident Found His Voice on Twitter: The Choice to Become K.C. Ardem”. I joined Twitter in 2019 under a pseudonym because I was scared of the backlash I knew I would experience. It gave me a place to see other minoritized physicians experiencing the exact same things, and so I didn’t feel so alone anymore. Social media also helped me connect with other LGBTQ+ and minoritized people.

SM: How do you navigate walking the line between being “professional” and “a unicorn-rainbow-phoenix”?

CA: If you ask any minoritized medical student, “professionalism” has been used against them for things such as not wearing ties, for having their natural hair, for being “too gay,” and it’s simply a way for bigotry and the hierarchy against minoritized people to be continually enforced. “Professionalism” is often utilized as a way to stamp out diversity.

I’ve experienced discrimination under the guise of professionalism for seven years. During that time, I tried to adapt to a system that was not built for me. Not only that, but I was also trying to be “professional” while white attendings, classmates, and deans could be racist towards people like me.

When I came to UCSF, I decided it was time to truly be myself. I am supported by program leadership and my classmates. I have not been told once that I am unprofessional, even though I’m super gay. I have neon pink and purple hair, I never wear ties, I cackle with my patients as we tell jokes, and at the same time, I get shit done that has helped them heal.

Hearing from a kid, “I’ve never had a gay doctor before,” right before they come out to me, or talking with an African American kid about minority stress, is the height of professionalism. It’s not a line I have to walk anymore because the university knows I am kind to patients, I am there for my colleagues, and I do good work for all of them.

SM: In your April 7, 2021 op-ed piece with MEDPAGE, you discuss the need, benefit, and importance of peer support throughout medical education and training. What does support look like to you? What advice would you give to a student or trainee who is struggling and in need of support?

CA: Support means holding each other accountable, examining our biases, and not enacting them against our colleagues or patients. It’s also about getting to know our classmates. There seems to be this aversion in medicine to truly getting to know your classmates. It’s part of the system when you’re constantly focused on the next examination, getting into residency – it’s a rat-race. Peer support means taking the time to truly delve with your colleagues.

For advice, I would say you need to find your community. We underestimate the power of community, and I want minoritized people to find one that truly supports them. Also, join Twitter, because it’s a sphere where minoritized physicians have come together in a way to support each other. You all have a home with us.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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