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Pride month member spotlight: Laura Targownik, MD

Dr. Targownik talks about her experience transitioning during her GI fellowship and the importance of allyship.
Pride Month spotlight: Laura Targownik
Pride Month spotlight: Laura Targownik

Dr. Laura Targownik is currently a clinician researcher in the Mount Sinai Hospital Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic and a member of the Zane Cohen Centre for Gastrointestinal Research. She is also the Director for the University of Toronto Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and a faculty member of the University of Toronto School of Public Health Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. Prior to joining the Department of Medicine as Division Director for Gastroenterology, she was the Chief of the Section of Gastroenterology at University of Manitoba.

Q: Please introduce yourself and your area of contribution to the LGBTQIA+ community of physicians and patients.

I currently serve as Division Director for Gastroenterology and Hepatology for the University of Toronto and an IBD clinical researcher focused on pharacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics. As a trans woman, I have been trying to take on a bigger role advocating for increasing awareness of the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ patients, and setting a positive example for other trans, gender-non conforming physicians, and those who may be questioning their comfort with their current gender role.

Q: What have been your major accomplishments and what obstacles have you faced?

I transitioned over 20 years ago while I was a GI fellow; at the time, there were few resources available to help guide my journey, and I did not know any other trans physicians, which meant I had to be a strong advocate for my rights and my safety. I was thankful to have supportive colleagues both during my fellowship and throughout my career who did not view my transitioning or my history as being a distraction.

Q: What do you envision for the future of the LGBTQIA+ physician workforce and for patientcare over the next five years?

I am concerned that the next few years may be more difficult and stressful for LGBTQ+ health professionals. Many states, especially those led by more extreme right wing politicians, have been placing restrictions of the provision of gender affirming care and transition related care, and others are attempting to restrict exposure of children and adolescents to public expressions of LGBT identity. I am worried about a future where any physician could face legal consequences or restrictions on their practice simply for affirming someone’s preferred gender, or for sharing their LGBT identity with a patient. This can affect physicians who are not directly involved in transition related care, or whose practice focuses on LGBT medicine.

Q: What inspirational advice would you offer to LGBTQIA+ trainees, medical residents and students?  

There is definitely a more visible and politically active core of medical professionals, who are generally looking for opportunities to support and sponsor LGBTQ+ learners. I have been particularly proud of the work of Rainbows in Gastro in creating community between and among GI professionals and learners, and of harnessing the energy built in these connections towards advocating for the concerns faced by physicians in our field.

Q: What advice regarding empathetic care would you like to share with the field of GI? 

It is important to all GI physicians who strive to provide high-quality care to be cognizant of the history of stigmatization of LGBTQ+ people by the health care system, understand the barriers that many of these individuals face when seeking health care, and to have consideration of how aspects of their lived experiences can impact GI care and the course of GI and liver diseases. Moreover, GI physicians should strive to create a clinical environment that seeks to embrace and affirm queer identities through visible acts of allyship.

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