Gay and lesbian physicians in training: a qualitative study.
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BACKGROUND: Gay and lesbian physicians in training face considerable challenges as they become professionalized. Qualitative research is necessary to understand the social and cultural factors that influence their medical training. In this study we explored the significance of gay or lesbian identity on the experiences of medical training using naturalistic methods of inquiry. METHODS: Semi-structured interviews, focus groups and an e-mail listserv were used to explore professional and personal issues of importance to 29 gay and lesbian medical students and residents in 4 Canadian cities. Data, time, method and investigator triangulation were used to identify and corroborate emerging themes. The domains explored included career choice, "coming out," becoming a doctor, the environment and career implications. RESULTS: Gay or lesbian medical students and residents experienced significant challenges. For all participants, sexual orientation had an effect on their decisions to enter and remain in medicine. Once in training, the safety of a variety of learning environments was of paramount importance, and it affected subsequent decisions about identity disclosure, residency and career path. Respondents' assessment of professional and personal risk was influenced by the presence of identifiable supports, curricula inclusive of gay and lesbian sexuality and health issues and effective policies censuring discrimination based on sexual orientation. The need for training programs to be proactive in acknowledging and supporting diversity was identified. INTERPRETATION: Considerable energy and emotion are spent by gay and lesbian medical students and residents navigating training programs, which may be, at best, indifferent and, at worst, hostile.
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