Medical students at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria successfully advocated for two “all gender” bathrooms on campus. It’s just one of several efforts aimed at improving awareness and understanding of LGBTQ patients.
Fourth Year Medical Student Natalie Reyes says implementing the transgender-friendly bathrooms didn’t necessarily come about in response to more students or faculty identifying as trans. She says the idea behind them is more about recognizing and welcoming people in the LGBTQ community.
“It’s definitely a message we’d like to send out to medical schools in general, medical students across the country, that we support this,” Reyes said. “And we want to have students and to create physicians that understand how important this is, how important a safe space can be for individuals.”
Reyes is part of the LGBTQA Alliance, a student interest group that started last year. She says the aim of the group is to graduate a generation of physicians who can properly care for gender non-conforming patients.
“We thought it was important to create this on campus, to make sure people feel comfortable, when students interview here, or we have visitors on the campus,” Reyes said. “We want to make sure that they feel like Peoria is somewhere they can come and feel welcomed and want to be a part of this community.”
Reyes and students with the LGBTQA alliance approached the college’s administration last year to request the addition.
UICOMP Regional Dean Dr. Sara Rusch says it was a relatively easy adjustment, since the school was already undergoing renovations. The medical school expanded to include its first class of first year students this semester.
“Medicine is about taking care of every patient, every time, to the best of our ability,” Dr. Rusch said. “So I think our students are right, to push us toward change.”
Rusch says sometimes in medicine, the rising generation brings cultural context that’s needed in the examining room. She offers an example from her own experience, which also involves restrooms:
“This may seem ancient history, but my bathroom story, as one of the first women in medicine, was the only bathroom in the doctors’ lounge, was male with urinals to the front,” Dr. Rusch said.
She graduated from the medical college at the University of Wisconsin in 1978.
Now, women make up about a third of physicians in the US, and nearly half of current medical students.
Rusch says it’s important that professionals be willing to listen to the younger generation and change their practice, so that people of all genders get the best care.