Dr. Nick Gorton | Point Scholar Shawn Luby
The Transformative Power of Mentoring
Anyone who has seen an episode of ER knows that being an emergency medical physician is an intense and all consuming job. Though stationed in a hospital much smaller than Chicago's County General, Dr. Nick Gorton spends most of his days and nights doing what any typical ER doc might: fixing broken bones, treating nasty infections, and, well, saving lives. And if that is not enough, he enjoys his days off from the emergency room volunteering as a primary-care provider at Lyon-Martin Women's Health Services in San Francisco.
At Lyon-Martin, Gorton touches the lives of a variety of patients, and transgender women in particular. What is left of his energy is funneled into pro-bono medical consultation for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project, and the Transgender Law Center. An endless well of commitment and passion for transgender medical care, Gorton—presumably in his sleep—writes chapters for medical textbooks and scholarly articles for publication in journals. Last year, along with two other physicians, Gorton lobbied to have sexual orientation and gender identity included in the non-discrimination clause of the Code of Ethics for Emergency Physicians.
In terms of commitment to the LGBT community and professional excellence, Gorton is a star. No one would fault him for saying no to one more volunteer job. Yet, when he read an article about the Point Foundation Mentoring Program last summer, he felt somewhat of a calling.
"I kept seeing Point Foundation pop up in various venues here and there. Then I read the article, and I thought, 'I should do this.'"
Gorton, who never had an official mentor, is concerned with what he sees as a shortage of successful professionals in the trans community. "I think that the people who are [successful] should at least put themselves out there. Transgender people are disproportionately of low socioeconomic status. Two-thirds make less than 25,000 dollars a year, and one-third make less than 10,000. So models for successful trans people are not as common as models for successful gay or lesbian people."
Gorton has approached his mentoring relationship with Shawn Luby with the same tenacity that he pursues his other activism, philanthropy, and professional roles. Luby, a 2005 Point Scholar majoring in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill (UNC), describes Gorton as helping him become a better student, activist, and person.
Given Gorton's schedule, his commitment to Luby is inspiring. He describes Gorton as follows: "He is always there. Whenever I e-mail him, whether it is about a technical question regarding something I am working on in school or whatever, he responds immediately". Over e-mail and on the phone they have discussed topics ranging from the subjects Luby studies in his classes to how to bridge the gap between the LGB and trans communities. When asked to describe the mentoring relationship, Luby said:
"I think this story sums it up. Last December, I was at school preparing to study for finals, when my partner called and said I had received what looked like a care package. She asked me who it was from and I said 'I don't know, I don't really have any parents'. It was from Nick. This was a really meaningful, but highly unusual thing for me. Here was someone who regardless of what I did and regardless of the decisions I made, they were going to be there to help guide me. It is really powerful for me to know that Nick went to high school in Durham, he went to medical school where I go to school, and he is such a successful trans man who is an important person in my own community. Having an influence like that in my life has given me the idea that I can keep setting higher goals for myself."
Luby isn't the only person who has been influenced by the mentoring relationship. Gorton has also been touched, as has the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (the triangle) community. As part of a required service project for Point Foundation, Luby wanted to develop a list of health resources for trans people in the triangle. What Luby ended up actually doing, with Gorton's help, was something much more substantial. They began a community effort to try to improve communication between the trans community in the triangle and medical care providers. Gorton set up meetings with doctors, professors, and other health care providers to help get the project off the ground; he even offered to hold trainings for physicians and has done lectures for the medical school on trans health. Luby organized his friends and acquaintances to alert them to the many services available. And instead of a simple list of resources, Luby states,
"It has morphed into a much larger project that has involved collaborating with existing low income clinics with the ultimate goal of creating a free health clinic for the trans community". Gorton described Luby as helping him to connect to a community that he cares deeply about in North Carolina, where he went to high school, college and medical school. "Shawn has a connection with the local transgendered group, and without him, the local trans community may not know how to get to the free clinic or know that the life saving services are there".
Even more remarkable is that Gorton and Luby have made such an impact given that they live on opposite sides of the country. Luby stated that at first he lamented the fact that his mentor was not in the same city, but once he saw how accessible and committed Gorton was, realized the distance did not matter. As for Gorton, he takes the initiative to connect with his mentee by not always relying on Luby to reach out. Luby was even more touched by Gorton's "Good Luck with Finals" care-package given that he never informed Gorton of his school schedule. "He must have gone to my school's website and looked up our academic calendar to know when to send the package." Gorton advises others in long-distance mentoring relationships that finding an efficient way of communicating up front is key. "Establish conversations in whatever way works for the two of you.... Instant Messaging, email, phone…" Gorton also makes it a priority to see Luby in person, he has already been to UNC once this year and will go again at the end of the summer. (As an added bonus, Gorton reports that all travel to see Luby is tax deductible.) Gorton has also made clear that he will cover travel expenses for any conferences related to trans medical care, or any other professional or activist community event Luby might be interested in attending.
Gorton's theory on the benefit of successful trans role models is the same that underlies the purpose of the Point Foundation Mentoring Program. We feel strongly that contact with our nation's LGBT and straight-allied leaders is essential for student who have had the idea that they cannot be out and successful driven into them from early childhood. Gorton and Luby serve as an example of the power of the mentoring relationship to change lives, not only for our scholars, but also for our mentors and our shared communities. Since working with Gorton over the past year, Luby has decided to apply to medical school. He emphasized that being a trans man and a doctor is something that never entered the realm of possibility before he met Gorton. At present, Luby is set to graduate Suma Cum Laude.
Manager, Point Foundation Mentoring Program
2003 Point Scholar