February 22, 2018

Maggie McGovney: Settling in

Inclusive culture creates space for medical students to thrive

M1 Maggie’s medical roots can be traced back a couple of generations to her grandfather who also attended the University of Michigan Medical School. As a member of OutMD, the Medical School’s student club that unites gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans individuals and straight allies to promote awareness of LGBTQ medical issues, she has found another family among her peers.

Here, Maggie answers 11 questions about why she wants to be a doctor, how she makes time for what matters and her top picks for the best of Ann Arbor.

What called you to explore a career in medicine?

I first said that I wanted to be a doctor when I was just over a year old, and I’ve more or less stuck with it ever since (except for when I was seven and decided I wanted to be a “spelunking ballerina,” which I’m still open to if medical school doesn’t work out). However, I wasn’t completely sure until I worked at a summer program for adults with disabilities and heard what the participants had to say about their doctors. Many of them said that their doctors wouldn’t speak to them directly, instead addressing their caregivers, and most felt that their doctors didn’t treat them with respect. I decided that I wanted to become a doctor in part to help change that.

What factors did you consider when deciding where to apply for medical school?

There were a lot of factors in my decision. Of course, the usual ones applied: cost, location, school rank. I also wanted to go to a school where there were things to do outside of medicine.  I love medicine, but it isn’t my only interest.

It was a difficult decision, but I ended up choosing to attend University of Michigan for many reasons. My interview day was a huge factor; while at other schools some students seemed like they weren’t that excited about medicine, students at University of Michigan seemed truly enthusiastic about what they were learning. Instead of saying “we work so hard,” they would say “we are learning so much!” and that kind of attitude makes a huge difference. The administration actively tries to foster this by decreasing competition between students (a pass/fail first year is nice) and encouraging a passion for learning rather than a passion for being the best.

I also found that University of Michigan uniquely encourages its students to participate in creative pursuits. Currently, I am a working on the Smoker (the yearly musical that the students write) and I am a member of the Medical Humanities Path of Excellence, which allows me to attend seminars about the intersections of art and medicine. In the past, I have participated in Biorhythms, the twice-yearly medical student dance performance.

The University of Michigan also has one other thing that no other medical school does: My grandfather, Robert Holm, graduated from here with his MD in 1964. You can still find his portrait on the hospital wall if you look (along with almost every graduating class that the medical school has ever had). His desk from medical school is in my room today, and it’s wonderful to know that I am following in his footsteps!

When did you first hear about OutMD?

I first heard about OutMD well before my interview day. Someone from Admissions emailed to ask if students wanted to meet with a representative of various organizations during their interview days, and I responded asking to meet with someone from OutMD.

Why did you become involved?

As a queer person, OutMD and organizations like it have always been extremely important to me. I was the president of my school’s queer-straight alliance in both high school (for three out of my four years) and college (for one year), so the decision to join OutMD was an easy one.  Becoming involved was similarly easy; I just put my email on the club’s list during the activities fair and here we are now!

What is your role in OutMD?

According to the OutMD president, I am the club’s “unofficial mascot.” Although I am not on the officer board, because I live with two members of the officer board and have yet to miss a club event I often end up tagging along to officer meetings as well (they will sometimes jokingly describe these meetings as being for the “Officer Board plus Maggie”). OutMD has given me a real sense of family within the medical school.

What do you think it means to the medical school experience that this organization is available to students?

It is important for anyone, especially people with marginalized identities, to have a community of people with similar experiences. OutMD can be a safe space for LGBTQ students, and the organization has sponsored many social events for queer students, sometimes partnering with other graduate schools, like the law and dental school. The opportunity to make friends who have similar experiences has been extremely important to me.

On top of that, the organization has a huge role in influencing the curriculum to be more inclusive. This year, we will have our first lecture on the reproductive health of transgender patients, which was added because of OutMD pushing to have it be a part of the curriculum.  OutMD also sponsored a patient panel with a group of transgender patients to educate students on the specific health care disparities they face, as well as many lunch talks about LGBTQ health care. In this way, OutMD has helped to make all of the students at UMMS more competent doctors.

Do you think there are any challenges in med school that are unique to LGBTQ students?

I can only speak from my own experience as a queer, cisgender (my gender identity matches what I was assigned at birth) woman, but personally I don’t believe that I have experienced any specific challenges in medical school because of my sexuality. There is always the challenge of deciding who is and isn’t safe to be out to, but so far for me all of the students and faculty here have been very accepting.

In my Doctoring class (where we learn the skills of the medical interview, physical exam, and other important things), my faculty always tries to make sure that we never assume a patient’s sexuality. Specifically, he often pretends to be a patient for us to interview, and if we ever assume the gender of the patient’s partner he’ll switch it (“How is your wife?” “Excuse me, I have a husband!”).

I could see there being some challenges for students who are transgender, since a few of the older faculty occasionally take a very simplistic view of biological sex. However, I’ve found this to be less of a pervasive problem than I had originally expected. Most of the lecturers who extensively discuss sex and the differences in physiology between the sexes have made a point of emphasizing that sex and gender are different things, and that a patient’s gender identity may not align with their sex. One of my friends, who uses they/them pronouns, told me that their professors have all been very consistent about using their pronouns and, when they do slip up, they correct themselves without a problem. Overall, I believe that medical school is a much more accepting environment than I had predicted.

How have you balanced spending time on your other interests with med school?

This actually isn’t as hard as I had feared. Yes, there is a lot more to get done in a week than there was in undergrad, but we also have a lot more flexibility around when things can get done.  I love going to the gym and haven’t had trouble making time to go four to five times per week.  Currently, I’m training for a 5K that I am going to run with other students from the medical school. Some weeks, I’ve worked hard during the week in order to have the weekend off, and during other weeks when I wanted to attend a lot of events or do a lot of things during the week I work harder during the weekend. It all just depends on your priorities.

How was your transition to living in Ann Arbor?

Well, I’m still getting used to the weather. I’ve never lived somewhere so snowy before (I’m from New Mexico). Other than that, though, I love the city! I decided not to bring a car to medical school for my first year to avoid insurance costs, which I was a little worried about, but it turns out the whole city is very walkable and the bus system is great.

What are your favorite things to do in the city?

There is a lot to do in the area of the university, from museums to bars to cool little shops. I highly recommend the Dawn Treader Book Shop, which is a used book store that at first seems small but then keeps stretching back way further than seems possible. Another great shop is Common Language Books, a queer-owned bookstore with a focus on queer literature. I like to buy cute and unique clothes at Ragstock (a 15-minute walk from the medical school), then if I need new business casual clothes for working in the clinic, I can easily take the bus down to the Briarwood mall.

I’m also in love with the variety and quality of food here, especially since I went to undergrad in Pittsburgh, which does not have an extensive food scene. Right next to Common Language Books is AutBar, which is a gay bar by night that also serves some of the best brunch and Mexican food in the city. I’m a big fan of trying new restaurants and, along with a group of my friends from OutMD, I try out a new brunch or dinner spot every few weeks. All of them so far have been great.

Ann Arbor also has no shortage of activities available to students. This Wednesday I’m going to attend a free swing dance class, and many Saturdays I go to a Spanish language practice group. There are always concerts and events that are either free or discounted to students (including medical students). Personally, though, my favorite thing to do here is walk down to the State Theater (just a 10-minute walk from the medical school) and catch whatever movie happens to be showing. Ann Arbor is geographically pretty small, but there is a lot to do here.

What would you say to a prospective student about the benefits of attending the University of Michigan Medical School?

I would tell a prospective student that, beyond the obvious benefits of attending such a well-known and respected medical school, the University of Michigan Medical School makes all of its students feel like they are valued and that the culture here encourages students to be excited about learning. Go Blue!