This Nurse Practitioner Served on the Frontlines of the AIDS Epidemic, and Now She's a Pioneer in Gender-Affirming Health Care

Why did you become a nurse practitioner? 

I'm from Waterbury, Connecticut, a small, industrial city that hit a bad spell in the '70s and '80s. It was voted one of the worst places to live in the nation. But I wouldn't be the person I am today without that place. That's where I helped take care of my grandfather, who died of lung cancer at home. I thought, "I'm pretty good at this." So I went to nursing school and got a job with a hospital on the oncology unit. In the '90s it flipped into HIV, and my career went from there. Most of the work I do is informed by those intersections of where I'm from, what I've seen, and how I interact in my space in the world. I've always been drawn to the margins.

What was it like working in hospitals during the AIDS epidemic? 

It was really awful. We had very little time with patients. You can draw parallels to the COVID pandemic, but no one was banging pots for health care providers. With COVID, we had a vaccine within a year. We still don't have a vaccine for AIDS. It makes you think about who is disposable and who holds value in the culture.

RELATED: A Second Person Has Been 'Cured' of HIV Without Treatment—Here's What That Means, According to Researchers

How did you become a leader in gender-affirming care? 

I started working at Equitas Health when it was an HIV clinic. In 2016, I began seeing people for gender-affirming care, which involves helping people who suffer from gender dysphoria self-actualize and become their true selves. That can occur through the prescription of hormones, or surgeries. Within six months, I was seeing seven new patients a day. We had 300 percent growth in our first year. There were people driving in from all over Ohio, sometimes sleeping in the parking lot. 

RELATED: What Does it Mean to Be Non-Binary? Experts Explain the Gender Identity

What's your vision for your department? 

We've developed a model of care based upon the foundational principle of medicine: Do not harm, always act for the benefit of the patient, respect autonomy, and provide care in a just and equitable manner. Along with my colleague Teagan Vaughn, a woman of trans experience and a PharmD, we're hoping to create a clinic space for people of trans experience staffed by people of trans experience. I recognize that I'm occupying a space that isn't mine, and I'm really cognizant of that. I would love it if this became the last generation of cis providers in this space.

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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