Sabina Spigner already holds a master’s in science and public health, and now she is entering her fourth and final year of medical school with the goal of becoming a physician.
Sabina wanted to be a physician from a young age. Her siblings needed medical interventions when they were kids, so her curiosity about that field grew. After battling with her sexual identity and discovering that the healthcare system has not quite adapted to the queer community, Sabina found a new motive for entering her field.
“I grew up in an area that didn’t have a lot of queer people in it, and it definitely didn’t have a lot of Black people in it,” Sabina says. “It’s a white conservative city. That was my first exposure to the impact of lack of representation and all of that on a patient who looks like me and has identities like me.”
Once Sabina observed the healthcare system in that way, she knew it was her life mission to create a safer place for people to receive medical care from. She talked with other people and realized that it was not just her experiencing problems with representation in the healthcare system — others faced them, too.
Medical Student Pride Alliance (MSPA) was created to be a source of community for medical students of the LGBTQ+ community. Sabina joined in 2019 as the assistant director of the campus engagement branch. In this role, she was tasked with spreading awareness about the community and recruiting new members. Now, she holds a lead role as an executive director, a position she has held for almost two years.
“We have all sorts of queer people as a part of the community,” Sabina says. “It’s just nice to have a little group of LGBTQ+ people that I have in person as well, but the representation is sparse in the medical community, so it’s nice to have that expanded online.”
In the medical world, it is easy to burn out to the point where sometimes someone can forget about why she started that journey in the first place. Sabina struggled with this common issue herself. In the middle of her third year, Sabina started to go through the motions and question why she chose this path. But something happened while she was going down the path of burning out that completely changed her mindset.
At work, she is open about her sexuality as her robe is decorated with pride memorabilia and “you’re safe with me” pins. She does this to show how open she is about her sexuality. While she does this for herself, she also does it so other LGBTQ+ patients do not feel the need to hide who they are. During one of her shifts, she asked one of her patients if they would like to change their preferred name in the medical system. She was then able to change their legal name to their preferred name.
“A lot of time it just says ‘legal name,’ but you can go in as a provider and update the name so that it shows the name they go by, or they prefer, and not their legal name,” Sabina says.
Sabina realized how important it is to ask those kinds of questions of somebody who does not feel recognized for who they are by society. This in turn gave her the reminder she needed that there are more people out their fighting to be represented the way they are comfortable with, and she continued to fight for those patients.
Advocating for patients is something that Sabina prides herself in, so being able to help a patient in terms of their identity gave her the boost she needed. Moments like this provide her with the validation that what she is doing is helping those who feel underrepresented. However, it can be difficult for Sabina to implement changes she deems essential within the hierarchy in the medical field.
“I’ve become comfortable in that world, being the ‘troublemaker’ of sorts, but I don’t view it as trouble at all,” Sabina says. “If it’s going to improve people’s lives in healthcare, then I think it’s worth it.”
As a queer women of color, Sabina did not have many people to look up to growing up. As she finishes medical school, she is determined to inject the representation and change she wants to see into the medical field.
“I am a Black, gay soon-to-be physician who’s not just going to sit by while medicine continues to be the problematic system that it has always been,” Sabina says. “Things can change and things need to change. I am definitely going to be working to make those changes.”