Haidn Foster

Haidn changed careers to go to medical school, and now balances research and advocacy to make the medical field more inclusive and supportive for LGBTQ+ students, providers, and patients.
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Photo Credit: Colleen Kelley

Undergraduate: University of Washington, 2008
Major: B.A., English
Graduate: University of Washington, M.A., English, 2009
Post-baccalaureate program:  Portland State University, B.S., Science, 2015
Medical school: University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, 2021

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Growing up, I had so many dreams—of being an author, a playwright, a CEO. Over the years I’ve achieved several of those dreams, but for every goal I achieve, I seem to add two more to take its place. I like to say that at any given moment, I know exactly what I want to do in life. It just changes!

What led to your interest in medicine?

Medicine wasn’t always on my radar as a possible career; I hadn’t even taken a biology class in high school or college. Then a painful condition I’d lived with for years was finally diagnosed and treated with surgeries that ended up changing my life. For the first time, I didn’t have to live in fear of my own body, and I knew then that I would do anything to help others in need experience that same sense of peace and wellness.

How did you prepare to apply to medical school?

There are many classes, tests, and other requirements before applying and entering medical school—none of which I had completed as an English graduate student and online marketing startup CEO. So when I decided to go to medical school, I began a rigorous two year program of science courses at my local university. I also started volunteering at the Oregon Health and Science University hospital, where I gained an appreciation for what it was like working with patients and other health care providers. When I graduated from my post-baccalaureate program, I took a year during my medical school application cycle to research in the lab of Dr. Charles Cobbs, a neurosurgeon and pioneer in the field of viral oncomodulation, studying how viruses can increase cancer malignancy.

What experiences did you have that confirmed medicine was the right career for you?

I recently saw a transgender patient for a routine appointment who, just minutes into her visit, revealed to me some of the hardships and loneliness she faced over the course of her transition. It was the sort of intimate, emotionally vulnerable moment that we as medical students and physicians are honored to share with our patients, and it’s at times like this that I am reminded what a privilege it is to practice medicine.

Please describe your participation in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, research, or study-abroad opportunities during medical school.

The opportunities I’ve had to advocate for others have been some of the most rewarding aspects of being a medical student. I am proud to advance patient and physician wellbeing through my involvement with the American Medical Association, passing national policy that helps the AMA lobby for better health care and medical research. I’ve also stayed active in conducting my own research, coordinating projects and writing manuscripts remotely with investigators from the Cobbs lab and returning to the lab in the summer between my first and second years of medical school.

How do you balance the demands of medical school with any additional obligations or challenges?

It can be tough to find the right balance between advocacy, research, and the demands of a medical school curriculum. For this reason, I believe one of the greatest gifts medical schools can offer students is a pass/fail grading system during the preclinical years. Because of this system, I can prioritize the issues and activities that are important to me outside of the classroom while still learning all that I need to provide excellent care to my future patients.

Are you a member of a unique demographic? If so, please describe how that shapes your medical school experience.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s vitally important to me that the medical field is as inclusive and supportive as possible for our queer and gender nonconforming students, providers, and patients. To make this a reality, I’ve worked with my medical school’s administration to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ student groups and resources throughout the admissions process. I also started Pride in Practice, an online publication dedicated to advancing the state of LGBTQ+ health care, to address the shortcomings of LGBTQ-specific training throughout medical school, residency, and continuing medical education.

What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in medicine?

Deciding to become a physician was difficult. After working in the startup world throughout my young adulthood, I chafed at the thought of being locked into one path for the rest of my life. I know now that this concern was misplaced. I quickly learned that as a physician there are innumerable career options—from private practice to industry, scientific research to crafting public policy. I truly believe that pursuing a career in medicine opens more doors than it closes.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career track similar to yours?

There are so many opportunities that present themselves to you as a medical student. Find one that inspires you or make your own!

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