April 19, 2018 — When UF College of Medicine student Jeffrey Ferrell looks back over his last four years, one thing is certain: without help from scholarship, he could not have pursued his passions to the fullest. Receiving the Kenneth H. Leathers Scholarship gave him the financial assistance he needed to complete research at the University of California, San Francisco, an experience that led him to accept a position as a resident in pediatrics at the UCSF Medical Center after he graduates next month.
“I wouldn’t have matched at UCSF had I not had that experience during medical school. And I wouldn’t have been able to have that experience if not for financial aid like the Leathers Scholarship,” he says.
Ferrell’s passion lies in achieving health equity for the LGBTQ community, particularly young people struggling with gender identity and sexual orientation. For his externship, Ferrell worked on The Pride Study, a national, longitudinal survey of more than 10,000 participants that asks, “What is the relationship between sexual or gender minority, which includes but is not limited to being LGBTQ, and health?” Ferrell worked in community outreach, promoting and launching the Pride Study App, and he will resume his work on the study in a few months.
Since he was an undergraduate student at Birmingham’s Samford University, Ferrell has served as an advocate for improving health care within the LGBTQ community. At UF, he’s worked with the department of pediatric endocrinology’s Youth Gender Clinic for transgender and gender nonconforming youth and their families, and he revived the UF College of Medicine’s HealthQueer Alliance with classmate Ansley Schulte.
“The mission of the HealthQueer Alliance is to ensure that this generation of doctors can provide competent care for LGBTQ people. LGBTQ people shouldn’t have to educate their doctors about their life and health,” Ferrell says.
Current health care practices for the LGBTQ community are changing, Ferrell says, but much work remains.
“I feel like the world is starting to accept people who don’t fit into the binary. Medicine is slow to adopt, but there are people in medicine creating change. I want to be part of that change,” he says. “People should be free to be who they want to be, or who they are. A lot of the time, that’s not male or female or heterosexual.”
Ferrell says he always knew medicine was in his future. A natural inclination toward math and science and an interest in community outreach turned into a full-blown career path when Ferrell was 11, shopping at the mall with his mother, Deon. Both of Ferrell’s parents worked in the medical field — Deon as a nurse and her husband, Roger Ferrell, M.D. ’70, as an obstetrician/gynecologist until he passed away when Jeffrey was 8. That day at the mall, a family recognized Deon and introduced a child whom Dr. Ferrell had helped birth, a child whose parents feared might not survive the birth.
“That always stuck with me,” Ferrell recalls. “I wanted to have that kind of impact.”
After his medical school rotation in pediatrics, Ferrell was convinced he wanted to treat the next generation. He realized a pediatrician serves a vital role within a child’s development and identity.
“The impact of an adult advocate on a child’s life is monumental. Having someone affirm their feelings when they’re young will help them to be confident adults,” he says. “I can work with children on things that their parents might not know how to approach, like childhood obesity, gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s about telling the kids it’s OK to be themselves and giving their parents the tools they need.”
Ferrell says treating his first patient as a third-year medical student is an experience he’ll carry with him always. After providing two weeks of care to his patient, Ferrell recalls receiving a letter from the patient’s daughter.
“She wrote, ‘You have a kind heart that cannot be taught in medical school,’” he says. “People appreciate the small things and the compassion you show them, even if it’s not fun in the moment.”
Ferrell says the UF College of Medicine taught him, among other lessons, that medicine is a team sport.
“People you work with, their attitudes and perceptions can impact patient outcomes,” he says. “I’ve been on some great teams over the last four years.”