I graduated from West Virginia University School of Medicine in 2004 and received my PhD in Immunology from there in 2006, as I am regularly reminded by the Alumni Association’s frequent requests for contributions. Back then, my name was Jonathan Reid Fulton. I began an Internal Medicine residency at WVU, but my own mental and physical health issues intervened and I withdrew from the practice of clinical medicine while I worked to heal myself. As is the case with many transgender people, when I admitted the source of my distress, I found that it was no longer insurmountable.
Still, rural West Virginia did not provide a supportive environment to work through issues of gender dysphoria. The folks at WVU tried to understand, but it was not something they had ever encountered before. I couldn’t finish my residency there, so I returned to my native Pittsburgh. Here I found a supportive community of friends and family who have helped me adapt to living my life in a more healthy and authentic fashion. These days, I am Aeryn Rebeka Fulton, and I couldn’t be happier.
There have been some bumps along the way. People are more accepting than they used to be, but there are definitely still people out there who are willing to hate me just because of one troublesome little chromosome that I never asked to be born with. It has absolutely impacted my career and my personal safety, and there are those who have never met me who have tried to harm me personally and professionally, just because I am transgender. It must be very frightening for them to see the world changing so quickly around them. I try to feel compassion, rather than anger.
I have gained so much on this journey that would not have been available to me had I not had some troubles along the way. I’ve had the opportunity to see tragedies and misfortunes that I probably would have been blind to, had I not fallen from my place in the Ivory Tower. My experiences will make me a better physician, and a better person. I’m no longer aiming to be a top professor or a department chair in an academic medical center. I would rather focus on purely clinical work, as a primary care physician for people who really need one. Having been shown the enormity of the need, I cannot wish for anything except to do my part to help meet it.
Returning to clinical medicine after a gap is challenging, and I make no pretense that this blog and my other social media profiles are anything less than an attempt to present my story and make me more accessible to the program directors that I will soon be approaching. I know that there is still substantial bias within the profession against transgender people, having experienced it first hand. But I am confident that the right residency program is out there, looking for me as urgently as I am seeking them. I know how much I have to offer, and I know that I will find the right opportunity to be of service.