When Nicole Nisly, MD, and Katie Imborek , MD, opened a clinic designed to specifically serve the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) community, they knew there would be a definite need.
Based at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics–Iowa River Landing in Coralville, Iowa, the UI LGBTQ clinic is open to the public, but staff there have been specially trained to address LGBTQ issues, as well. The clinic is open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. each Tuesday. For more information or an appointment, call 319-384-7444 or 855-467-3700.
While many patients have actively searched for such a clinic, some have found it by happenstance.
Rüdiger Rückmann and Benjamin Bruch—a same-sex married couple with a daughter–were looking for a new physician. They’d visited some area clinics but were never quite comfortable, so they were looking something that better fit their needs.
They brought their daughter to see a pediatrician at Iowa River Landing, the couple asked staff there about some of the doctors.
“We wanted to find someone who had a background in alternative medicine and homeopathy as well as traditional Western medicine,” Benjamin says. “We were referred to Dr. Nisly. We asked a lot of questions. We wondered how receptive she would be.”
When they learned Nisly, professor of internal medicine, and Imborek, clinical assistant professor of family medicine, had opened a clinic specifically for the LGBTQ community, they knew they’d hit on something good. “We ultimately wanted to find someone who would be comfortable with us as a same-sex couple, as well as a same-sex couple with a child,” Benjamin says.
Rüdiger had searched for doctors online and had come across Nisly’s name, and was further interested when clinic staff recommended her, he says. “I glossed over the fact that the clinic was for our community, so when I realized that, I thought it was a bonus,” he says.
Whether choosing a health care provider or the community in which they live and work, Rüdiger and Benjamin look for places that are right for their family. Benjamin says they came to Iowa not only because of Rüdiger’s full-time job at Scattergood Friends School & Farm in West Branch, but also to raise their daughter in an environment where they are recognized and welcomed as a family unit, and they found the LGBTQ clinic to be just such a place.
Meeting a Need
Nisly and Imborek first connected in November 2011 when they were attending a panel discussion presented by TransCollaborations, a University of Iowa student- and community-based organization for transgender and gender non-conforming people. The panel discussion targeted health care for the transgender community, Imborek says.
During an open question period at the end of the discussion, both Imborek and Nisly asked how they could make their own clinics more accessible and more welcoming to the LGBTQ community. The two women got together after the discussion and started talking about the importance of serving all of the community’s needs.
“She (Nisly) told me this was important to her, and for me, I identify as a lesbian, so LGBTQ issues have always been near and dear to my heart,” Imborek says.
“I’ve been fortunate, I haven’t been subjected to a lot of negativity, but I know it exists,” she says.
The two discussed opening a clinic specifically to meet the needs of the LGBQT community. When UI Health Care–Iowa River Landing opened in October 2012, it presented an opportunity to have time and space available. Shortly after the facility opened, so did the LGBQT clinic.
Serving the community: As diversity officer for her department, Nisly worked with colleagues in the LGBTQ community and heard stories of difficulties negotiating the health care field, particularly for people who identified as being transgender. Many things that most patients take for granted – being addressed by the proper pronoun and gender-inclusive restrooms, for example – could sometimes be frustrating to members of the LGBTQ community, Nisly says.
“It’s very important when we create an environment that is welcoming, that it be so at the very base level,” she says. “We looked at models from across the country and decided on single-person restrooms that have universal accessibility.”
In addition, medical records list the patient’s preferred name, as well as their preferred pronoun. Medical staff as well as reception staff were trained in the best, most welcoming way to address patients. Doctors also began looking at hormone replacement therapy as something they wanted to offer.
“I think creating those basic structures so people come in and know they’re understood up front, just like anyone else, is important,” Nisly says. “People come in and we know how to address them, we know how to talk to them. They don’t have to fight the environment that is taking care of them.”
That’s what Benjamin and Rüdiger appreciate most.
“I don’t think we need someone who necessarily specializes in ‘the health care of gay men,’” Bruch says, “but someone who is comfortable talking to us. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your doctor then you might not ask questions that could get you the treatment you need.”