Brad Figler, MD, associate professor of urology, received the award for his work creating the UNC Transgender Health Program as a way to support coordination and quality of care for transgender patients. Recent SOM graduates Noa Nessim, MD, and Margo Faulk, MD, received their awards for starting the Gender Affirming Care Clinic at UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC, the nation’s first student-run free clinic).
This content is from UNC’s LGBTQ Center. To read the full story and see all award recipients, click here.
Members of the 2018-2019 Advocacy Award Committee determined three winners from over 30 nominations recognizing the contributions of talented and committed UNC community members.
This year’s Graduate/Professional Awardees are Noa Nessim, MD, and Margo Faulk, MD. These two recent medical school graduates were jointly nominated by four of their peers, who wrote:
Nessim and Faulk, through the funding of a Schweitzer grant, started the Gender Affirming Care Clinic at UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC, the nation’s first student-run free clinic). Through this clinic, Nessim, Faulk, and their supervising providers offer free, gender affirming care, including prescriptions for hormone therapy, primary care, and access to other outside resources. These two medical students have gone above and beyond the expectations of fourth year medical students, putting hundreds of hours into starting and operating this clinic and ensuring its continuation once they graduate and begin residency.
In addition to running the clinic, Faulk and Nessim created a specialized training program for all SHAC volunteers and staff to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all trans people who come to the clinic to receive care. In particular, it focuses on the challenges faced by trans-identifying individuals within the health care system. Their work toward realizing a vision of incorporating this training into the curriculums of UNC health profession schools — making it mandatory for all graduating students — holds the potential to yield sustained benefits in providing medical care for LGBTQIA+ patients.
Nessim and Faulk have enhanced visibility and awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues by identifying a need in the community and doing everything in their power to fill it. They saw a lack of free, safe medical care for trans people in the Chapel Hill community, highlighted the gap, and used their medical knowledge and academic resources to make a change. By creating an extensive network of LGBTQIA+ folks in the triangle and beyond, they have been able to reach a wide community and provide services that may otherwise be inaccessible.
Nessim and Faulk have made every effort for their clinic to operate within an inclusive environment. They offer all of their documentation and services in both English and Spanish. They have also begun to apply for grants in an effort to provide transportation assistance for community members unable to find rides to clinic appointments. Additionally, they are working to find funds that would allow the clinic to provide free hormone therapy for patients in their clinic who cannot afford it. Faulk and Nessim are constantly looking for ways to make their care more accessible, seeking out potential barriers in order to break them down.
Overall, Faulk and Nessim’s work has provided a resource for the LGBTQIA+ community in Chapel Hill that was previously unmet. They have identified the need for quality, kind care for the trans community, and then masterfully filled that need. This clinic will not only continue to provide care for years to come, but will also allow the opportunity for current and future medical students to learn to provide excellent healthcare to trans patients.
Nessim will conduct residency training in Family Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. Faulk will conduct residency training in Family Medicine at UNC.
Brad Figler, MD, is this year’s Faculty, Staff, and Postdoctoral Scholar Awardee.
Figler is a fellowship-trained expert in transgender care and gender affirming surgery and an associate professor in the department of urology. When he started at UNC in 2016, he noticed that there was a lot of great work being done for transgender patients across the health care system. However, it wasn’t always clear to patients how to best access those services. Therefore, in 2018 Figler proposed the UNC Transgender Health Program as a way to improve access to UNC Health, and to support coordination and quality of care for transgender patients. The program was officially launched in July of 2019, and draws on the strength and commitments of many departments across UNC, including urology, gynecology, plastic surgery, family medicine, endocrinology, and psychiatry. Further, two of the three employees of the UNC Transgender Health Program are trans, allowing members of the community to guide people through transition and train faculty and staff across UNC on how to provide better care to trans individuals.
During the creation of this program, Figler tirelessly sought guidance and insight from existing programs across the country, travelling to observe surgery and learn from the experiences of other programs, setting UNC’s program up for success. And indeed, in its first year, the Transgender Health Program at UNC has been a resounding success. In fact, there has been such a high volume of incoming patients that the program has not just been approved for continuation into next year, but also for expansion.
Patient feedback for Figler has been overwhelmingly positive, with a recent patient stating, “Dr. Figler is the very best as far as I’m concerned. He …was so careful not to cause me any pain. He explained everything he was doing, and completely put me at ease.” Figler clearly cares deeply for the health and well-being of transgender patients, and provides a safe space that recognizes differences in his patient’s experiences.
Read the full story on this year’s recipients here.