DEVLYNN NEU MS, OTR/L
How has your advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community played a role in your practice as an occupational therapist?
Occupational therapists view each individual in their entirety, including their culture, identity, and background. This ideology really shifted my mindset in all aspects of life, and helped me understand people, especially those within the LGBTQIA+ community on a deeper level. I think my role as an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community and my role as an occupational therapy practitioner have blended together from what I used to view as two separate roles.
I think the most influential takeaways that directly impact my O.T. practice are the use of language and identity. I strive to be mindful with the language I use during evaluations and occupational interviews, and have worked to transition my language to be gender-less and/or gender neutral. Fulfilling the role as an LGBTQIA+ advocate and member of the community has challenged me to be more open minded and mindful in my use of language and identity with any individual.
What do you think needs to occur or is already occurring to heighten LGBTQIA+ representation in healthcare?
Increasing representation, inclusion, and education all serve vital roles in increasing LGBTQIA+ representation in healthcare. People within the community need to have a seat at the table. We need to be included in the conversation, in policies, in leadership roles, on boards, and in academia. There is notable progress in the right direction, but we still have so far to go in regards to equality, validity, and representation.
What message do you wish to impart on individuals that are afraid to express their true identities and don’t even know where to start?
There’s no ‘right time’ or ‘right place’ to be yourself. It’s not about ‘coming out’ anymore, it’s about when you feel that you are ready to let others in on who you are. You have the power, and you are not responsible for how other people react or feel. Your identity is valid, it is meaningful, and it is beautiful. Surround yourself with people, or even just one person, that you feel empowered by and that provides a safe space for you to be yourself and explore what that means to you.
You don’t have to fit the mold of any identity, and your identity can and likely will change over time. That’s totally okay. Regardless of what anyone may tell you, you will never be too gay, queer, feminine, masculine, etc. If you need guidance, support, or have any questions, send me a message @therainbowot on instagram.
LAURA VATER MD MPH
How has your exposure to public health shaped your practice now as a physician?
Public health training focuses on prevention and social justice. Having this education prior to medical school was foundational for me, and it continues to shape my practice even now as an Internal Medicine physician and future Oncologist. This perspective taught me the importance of prevention, early detection of disease, and how delays in diagnosis and inequalities in treatment affect patient lives. I currently care for a very diverse group of patients across four hospital systems. I continue to see how factors such as income, health literacy, and access to care affect health outcomes. It continues to be my desire to not only recognize such concerns, but try to address them at a patient and policy level.
You are the creator of the SMILE Score. What is it, how it is currently being used, and what is your vision for it?
It is vital to our healthcare workforce that clinicians are healthy. Not only for our own vitality and longevity, but for patient care. When we are well, we are able to show more compassion and provide excellent care to our patients. Many of us, myself included, struggle to prioritize and advocate for our health. Too often during my medical training I have been tired and inconsistent. I needed a simple strategy to take care of myself and I started to read.
After reviewing the data on habits that promote health and happiness, I found a clear message: get enough sleep, be physically active, find healthy ways to de-stress (such as meditate), connect with others, and eat a mostly plant-based diet. I searched for a memory tool to reinforce this information, but could not find one so I decided to create the SMILE Score. It’s a simple tool that can help anyone prioritize and advocate for their health. This tool is a daily self-assessment, with each letter (S, M, I, L, E) representing one healthy habit:
S – Sleep enough. Did I get seven to nine hours of sleep?
M – Move. Was I physically active for 30 minutes or more?
I – Inhale. Exhale. Did I meditate, practice mindfulness, or find other healthy ways to reduce stress today?
L – Love and connect. Did I meaningfully connect with someone today?
E – Eat to nourish. Did I choose mostly plant-based, whole foods today?
This tool is currently being used by clinicians, patients, and educators throughout the U.S. It is my vision that this can be a tool for prevention and clinician health for anyone who needs a strategy to support their health.
What message do you wish to impart on those that are working in healthcare, but find it very difficult to take care of themselves both in and out of work?
Clinicians face high levels of occupational stress throughout training and practice. We work long hours, our sleep gets disrupted, and we have high levels of occupational stress. As we take on more work, we are often taught to prioritize patient care and work demands over our mental and physical health. This expectation to put our work above our health has many consequences. It makes us feel like our health is not valued, makes us feel subhuman, and it erodes patient care.
If we are not well, we are not as able to provide compassionate, high-quality care. We need to implement multi-level solutions across healthcare, including changes in reimbursement and documentation, expansion of residency positions, more humane duty-hours, increased delegation of clerical tasks, and creation of work environments that promote health. We cannot wait until systems have changed to prioritize or advocate for our health.
To anyone working in healthcare, I want you to know that your health matters too. You are human too. Prioritizing and advocating for your mental and physical health is not selfish or a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of immense strength.