DO and LGBTQ+ pride

DO podcast host discusses coming out as trans in med school and LGBTQ+ health care

Torben “Ben” Hamilton, DO, is a recent medical school graduate and a proud second lieutenant in the US Army. You can catch him on the TransAtlantic Call-in Show, where he is a proud host.


Medicine is a cornucopia of different experiences, walks of life and worldviews. Torben “Ben” Hamilton, DO, is a recent medical school graduate and a proud second lieutenant in the US Army. He has just recently started his family medicine residency at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia.

As a medical student, he was an outspoken member and president of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) and a treasurer for the sports medicine club. He was also a Health Professional Scholarship Program (HPSP) scholarship recipient. Nowadays, you can catch him on the TransAtlantic Call-in Show, where he is a proud host.

According to the AAMC’s Medical School Questionnaire, the 2021 results showed an increase in students identifying as gay/lesbian and bisexual. Since 2017 to 2021, the number of medical graduates identifying as gay/lesbian has gone up from 3.4% to 4.3% of the population. In that same period of time, the number of bisexual medical graduates have gone up from 2.3% to 5.0%.

Another increase, according to this questionnaire, was among students who identify with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. From 2017 to 2021, the percentage of students increased from 0.3% to 0.7%.

This questionnaire does not encompass the full scope of the LGBTQIA+ population, but it provides a snapshot. Even though these numbers represent a small population of the graduating classes, there is a steady increase.

We can foster a more inviting environment for future and current students by cultivating safe spaces, creating a more inclusive curriculum, and recruiting more LGBTQIA+ faculty. For instance, small actions like normalizing the use of appropriate pronouns and providing information for local LGBTQIA+ resources can go a long way in creating an inclusive culture. Dr. Hamilton describes his journey so far, and what he has learned along the way.

Dr. Hamilton, you have a really unique work/education history. Can you please share it with our readers?

I am a trans man from Colorado. I had an untraditional path to medicine, coming from a performing arts background. I was born and raised in the theater and had two years of an undergrad theater degree before changing my major to biology. I have since used my theater training to speak publicly about LGBTQ+ advocacy. I now participate in online activism, including a call-in show where people can ask questions about current trans issues.

What drew you to medicine?

I’ve always been curious about medicine, but being a theater kid, I never believed I could be capable of pursuing it. I saw my friends going into medicine or nursing and I thought they were innately special, but in reality, they made their own choice, took a risk and went for it. I realized I could make that same choice.

Medicine is the ideal field for me because I’m passionately curious about the diagnostic thought process. I love high-stakes problem solving and working in gray areas. Furthermore, the feeling of wanting to help someone and not being able to was enough of a push for me to keep learning medicine until I was finally able to be useful. I feel that my time is finally here where I can use my education and platform to help advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community through medicine.

As a trans medical student, what were some unique challenges and hurdles you faced?

I’ve faced many challenges being a trans med student. I’ve had multiple clinical preceptors who were not accepting of trans identities even though they had no idea I was trans. I’ve had to hide my trans status from a cardiology attending who blasted racist and anti-trans radio during work hours, which made me feel unsafe.

After multiple experiences like this, it was a challenge for me to decide how open about being trans I wanted to be in my personal statement. In the end I decided to be completely transparent with residency programs because I didn’t want to join a program that was unsafe. If a program wanted me, they would have to want all of me, including my trans advocacy.

I am sorry to hear that! How did you navigate a situation like that?

I honestly didn’t address it until the after-rotation evaluations because I was the only student there that month and didn’t want to be outed. I tried to keep to myself on that rotation. I really wish I had reported him sooner.

You transitioned during medical school. How was that experience for you? What were the logistics you needed to take care of as a student?

It was difficult getting people to use the correct pronouns, and it was even more difficult because it took several months before I could even start on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and it took another several months for it to have an impact. I would wear my pronoun pin to osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) lab and every time people would still get it wrong.

I started showing up to class with larger and larger pins until I finally showed up with a shirt saying “It’s a Boy” on it to try to start the conversation. Surprisingly, I didn’t need to engage in that conversation because any time I wore that shirt, people would use my correct pronouns.

That must’ve been a very difficult experience. I am sorry to hear that. I hope you are in a better place.

It’s over now.

As someone who’s seen the clinical and non-clinical side of medicine, what are some changes you want to see?

I want to see LGBTQIA+-led care with stronger allyship from our cis-het (cisgender and heterosexual; cisgender refers to individuals who identify with the sex assigned to them at birth) colleagues. I think we have a lot of people who want to be allies but are maybe taking missteps or not listening to the community about what we specifically need.

We are being hit with an onslaught of legislation limiting trans health care, and it’s not enough to have medical organizations say they’re in support of the community without much action.

We need physicians and organizations to be active in opposition to these bills and help clear up misunderstandings surrounding trans care. We also need physicians to actively work on their communication skills so they can be effective allies.

I think those would be some welcome changes. Do you have any tips for LGBTQIA+ students who are in medicine?

My biggest tip is to not feel bogged down or obligated to participate in LGBTQIA+ specific health care. It’s great if that is a passion of yours and you want to help. The truth is we need all kinds of doctors who are safe for the community. LGBTQIA+ people still need cardiologists, neurologists, surgeons, etc.

You can be a safe space in any specialty that you’re passionate about. Too many LGBTQIA+ folks feel pressured to put themselves in potentially unsafe situations in the name of activism, and while that is a noble effort, it is not a mandate nor obligation. You’re allowed to take a step back and meet your own personal needs for safety and can set your own boundaries.

For information on how the American Osteopathic Foundation is working to advocate for positive change in LGBTQIA+ health care, check out their LGBTQ+ Health Equity + Inclusion Initiative.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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