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The Space We Share

Guest Writer: Nicole Damari

“This one’s like me,” my 8-year-old patient said with a smile, pointing to the picture on the clinic wall. The image was a drawing of a grandfather embracing his grandson, taken from the children’s book Drawn Together by Minh Lê, and it was one of 80 pictures newly installed on our clinic walls just that week. I couldn’t remember having patients comment on the clinic art before our new additions. Maybe it was just the novelty of the change, but I suspect it was something more.

Our decision to overhaul the art on the walls was more than a whim. It initially stemmed from a larger project that asked why our clinic served so few openly LGBTQ patients. Understanding that when an entire group is absent or underrepresented there is likely more at play than random chance. We put together a team that conducted brainstorm sessions and held focus groups with LGBTQ patients to paint the picture of how we could do better. The project yielded a number of interventions, from education on LGBTQ health topics for providers to LGBTQ inclusive children’s books to making pronoun stickers available for patients, but it also brought to light an element very crucial to the clinic but easy to overlook nonetheless: the space itself.

Looking at the pictures on the walls, we started to feel like there was a missed opportunity to have art and imagery of the walls reflect that community we serve. Our clinic cares for patients of all ages, from newborns to older adults, and is diverse on multiple axes of identity including race, ethnicity, religion, and disability status. While our project had initially set out to ensure our clinic environment was safe and welcoming to sexual and gender minorities, we began to realize that they were not the only ones who were underrepresented on the walls of our clinic.

Accessing medical care is a vulnerable experience for all of us. We are asked to share parts of our lives we might not speak about in other settings, we share private concerns, and we receive news, both joyful and devastating. While it’s impossible to remove the potential for discomfort that patients feel in a healthcare setting, it can be alleviated somewhat by ensuring that the space in which that care happens is not just open to a diversity of patients, but is truly welcome to, inclusive of, and safe for patients from all backgrounds.

We searched widely through new art options, ultimately landing on a series of pieces from children’s books. Images from books like Parker Looks Up, All the Way to the Top, and Mommy, Mama, and Me – not to mention the 80 others – depict children and families from an array of backgrounds, family structures, and abilities. We spent an evening hanging them in hallways and clinic rooms, and the response was immediate. Patients of all ages, as well as clinic staff, commented on the art, many of them commenting on how they felt seen in it.

Almost paradoxically, when we spend enough time in a space, we can start to overlook it, taking our surroundings for granted. It is easy to forget how different places can make us feel excited or afraid, uneasy or welcome. Simply by being deliberate about the appearance of our clinic space and who it represented, I believe we created a place that feels a little more welcoming for our patients.

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