AIMC Berkeley News

HSDP: Learning from Experience

Our last Health Stigma & Disparity Project workshop of the term focused on practicing what we’d learned in previous workshops by troubleshooting real life issues that have come up in the AIMC Berkeley clinic.

Each participant got a note card with a real situation written on it. They read it and then we talked about what had gone wrong in that situation and what we could do differently if we were in that position.

Issues ranged from gender, sexuality, race, mental health, drug use, and polyamory. Many of the specific examples are confidential, however, some of the basic takeaway lessons are:

  • Avoid making harmful assumptions about your patient. Whether you’re assuming they’re straight, cisgender, uneducated, dealing with addiction, or any number of things, any time you’re assuming rather than asking and listening to your patient you aren’t giving them the care they deserve. (For example, don’t ask a patient about her boyfriend when she hasn’t told you her sexuality or relationship status. In fact, personal questions like this are really only relevant if your patient brings them up first.)
  • Listen to your patient’s primary symptom and make sure to address it, regardless of other things you’ve learned (or assumed) about their health during the interview. Regardless of drug use, body size, relationship style, gender identity, mental illness, or any other issue, your patient won’t come back if you treat what you’ve decided is most pertinent to their health rather than what’s most important to them. This may seem obvious, but these kind of mistakes happen a lot. (For example, don’t treat a patient for weight loss who has come to see you for headaches!)
  • First and foremost we are here for our patients’ health and well-being. Never ask a patient about changing their lifestyle or identity. Furthermore, make sure you are not using up their valuable appointment time by trying to educate yourself. Look things up online on your own time if you need to learn more and save appointment time for your patient.

We’ve decided to branch out our topics for the next term, as was our original plan in forming this group. We will start out with a workshop on race on Wednesday September 17th from 12-1pm. Throughout the term we’ll also have a workshop on allyship, one on polyamory and kink, and one on mental health. The goal of this group is to prepare our interns (and supervisors) for working with a diversity of patients in clinic, and to create a more supportive safe space at our school for our students, faculty, staff, patients, and community.

Katrina Hanson is a second-year student and junior intern at AIMC Berkeley. She became involved in medicine through working as an in-home caregiver for adults with developmental disabilities while obtaining her BA in Public Health at The Evergreen State College. After graduation, she worked as a Spanish-language community health educator before beginning study at AIMC Berkeley. She brings her knowledge of queer health issues into her studies and plans to center her practice around queer and transgender healthcare. For more information, visit her blog at

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