Pictured (l-r): M. Chamberlain; V. Pauley; E. Wheeler; R. Harrison; L.E. Faricy; and R. Mak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LGBTQ+ youth are up to 20 percent more likely than heterosexual youth to experience bullying, sadness and hopelessness, use illicit drugs, and consider suicide. Amidst the increased isolation and disconnectedness of the pandemic, Outright Vermont’s Camp Outright offered a beacon of light and hope for queer, trans, questioning, and allied youth from throughout the U.S. and beyond.
Described as “a traditional summer camp experience with a queer twist,” Camp Outright provides a supportive environment and a range of activities focused on community, social justice, and fun for youth aged 13 to 17. During the two 2021 summer sessions, the camp also served as a place for medical trainees and campers to see a different side of patient care and clinicians, respectively.
“The mission of Camp Outright is to support queer, trans, questioning, and allied youth to survive, thrive, and grow,” says University of Vermont Assistant Professor of Pediatrics L.E. Faricy, M.D., who has worked as a medical provider at the camp for several years.
Youth Risk Behavior Survey data show that “LGBTQ youth in Vermont are much more likely than heterosexual/cisgender peers to report that they don’t feel like they matter to people in their community,” says Faricy, who believes that Camp Outright literally saves lives.
Her experience working at the camp “makes me a better physician,” says Faricy, who realized that medical trainees could benefit from the powerful educational experience, too. She developed an Advanced Integration elective called “Adolescent & LGBTQ Health,” which has objectives such as assisting with intake, reviewing and organizing daily medications; practicing reflective listening to campers; sharing perspectives on the barriers faced by LGBTQ youth in accessing effective medical care; and examining the role of bias in interactions with youth and staff.
For the first time ever, Faricy had a third-year pediatrics resident and three fourth-year medical students on-site for the camp’s two sessions in July 2021. Her medical team—affectionately called “MedForce” by campers—included Vivian Pauley, M.D., a UVM Medical Center resident and clinical instructor in pediatrics, Class of 2022 medical students Rachel Harrison, Ray Mak, and Emerson Wheeler, as well as a local area nurse, Megan Chamberlain. The group also addressed such acute health issues as splinters, bug bites, and headaches, and supported camp activities like workshops, crafts, and affinity group spaces, says Harrison.
“Seeing medical professionals in a joyful, celebratory setting like Camp ensures that 80 youth who are statistically likely to experience poor health outcomes have an entirely new perspective on what it means to interact with health care workers,” says Amanda Rohdenburg, Outright Vermont’s associate director. “They saw themselves reflected in the medical [trainees] and had opportunities to build trust, experience affirmation, and receive care from trusted adults,” she adds.
Faricy, who specializes in pulmonary medicine, says she is “a pediatrician first” and is passionate about advocacy.
“Most medical education happens in clinics and hospitals, but this partnership between Outright Vermont, UVM Children’s Hospital, and the Larner College of Medicine provides an opportunity for medical students and residents to experience what life-saving interventions can look like outside the walls of a hospital,” Faricy explains.
Stepping outside the medical center was a welcomed change of perspective for Pauley. “After months of supporting youth in the hospital through crisis since the onset of the pandemic, being part of creating a space where LGBTQ+ youth could thrive was a deeply healing experience,” she admits.
The creation of the elective and partnership between UVM providers and students “creates a chance for authentic learning and engagement, and the reciprocal building of trust and connection,” says Outright Vermont Executive Director Dana Kaplan. “We are grateful for L.E.'s vision and the power it has to spread out well beyond these 80+ campers and med team in training.”
Harrison can attest to the impact the elective experience had on her as an aspiring child and adolescent psychiatrist.
“One camper commented to me that they often felt unsafe in medical spaces, but that they were grateful to have our MedForce team there to listen to them, accept them as their true self, and create a safe space for their healthcare needs,” she says. “It was truly a wonder to see about 50 teens come together each week to form queer community, for the first time in many of the campers' lives, and to help build a space where they felt that they could be their most authentic selves.”