From a young age, third-year PNWU medical student Polly Wiltz committed to serving as an ally to those fighting for equality. That commitment eventually led to a role as the president of PNWU’s LGBTQ+ Alliance for Health, and more recently, a scholarship from the Pride Foundation, an organization which provides essential financial resources and community support to inspirational LGBTQ+ and allied student leaders across the Northwest.
As she prepares to transition away from her presidency and into her third-year medical school rotations, Wiltz reflects on her ongoing advocacy work and offers a glimpse at a more inclusive future for everyone.
How did your time as the president of PNWU’s LGBTQ+ Alliance for Health help to prepare you for this opportunity? What are you most proud of accomplishing in that role?
Because PNWU is such a young school in comparison to other DO and MD programs, the sky was the limit on what we wanted to accomplish as a club. Direct interaction and testimony from the people we needed to hear from most seemed to be a good place to start.
Since assuming the position, our club has developed a mentoring relationship with The Space, an LGTBQ+ homeless youth drop-in center, facilitated sensitivity training at local hospitals, and advocated for increased LGBTQ inclusivity on PNWU’s campus and throughout Yakima. We teamed up with Planned Parenthood to form a community panel on sexual reproductive health directed at engaging at risk youth, hosted the first ever Halloween Fashion Show Fundraiser (which boasted an impressive turnout of over 140 people from the community alone), assisted with PNWU’s first annual Diversity and Inclusion Week, organized activities addressing pronoun sensitivity in establishing care, and hosted a student-led panel on diversity, intersectionality, and disparities in LGBTQ+ health care.
By collaborating with PNWU's Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Task Force we were able to include faculty and staff in our activities, and in doing so found our largest barrier: people were interested in our work and wanted to be involved, but were afraid or unsure of how to do so. This led us to host multiple pronoun sensitivity trainings on campus.
We had a successful year, and what stands out the most, is the number of PNWU students, faculty and staff who have added their pronouns to their email signatures. It is a small but very telling sign of solidarity.
How does this scholarship reflect the commitment to LGBTQ+ advocacy you’ve displayed in your time at PNWU and beyond?
This scholarship validates the work that I’ve done here in Yakima, but more than anything, it continues to fuel my desire to seek equal and accessible healthcare for everyone that comes from an underrepresented or underserved community.
What does being an “ally” mean to you, and why is it so important that PNWU continues to serve as an ally to underrepresented communities?
As physicians, we are an ally to every patient that walks into our exam room.
People who identify as LGBTQ+ make up a large portion of underrepresented communities, and many come from rural areas throughout the US. Interestingly, 64% of the 2020 Pride Foundation Scholars live in rural areas. By investing in our education, and training us to be fully equipped to treat people from all walks of life, we equip ourselves with the tools needed to accomplish our shared mission of sending physicians back to their communities to serve the underserved.
What do you hope to accomplish as a Pride Foundation scholar?
Moving forward as a leader, member, and ally of the LGTBQ+ community, my goal is to continue collaborating with PNWU to enhance and maintain an inclusive and welcoming university that values all students, faculty, and staff.
One of the projects I was working on with Yakima Memorial was a safe-space training for their staff. As my role is now shifting towards rotations here in Yakima, I hope to continue expanding on that project. I’ve also joined the Political Affairs Task Force through the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) to assist in policy development surrounding the opioid crisis and LGBTQ+ healthcare.
Most importantly, and often most effectively, I will continue to lead by example as a student clinician, continuing to speak up and advocate on the behalf of my patients.
PNWU’s LGBTQ+ Alliance recently partnered with the Medical Student Pride Alliance. What was your reaction to this partnership, and how do you anticipate it will impact PNWU's advocacy-related efforts going forward?
I cannot wait to see what the new leadership does with this new partnership.
Medical Student Pride Alliance is an activist and social organization that is committed to empowering LGBTQ+ students and allies, while also increasing the number of physicians trained in LGTBQ+ healthcare. This partnership will continue to strengthen conversation on campus and help our PNWU chapter in developing a diverse, globally integrated group of students to better serve our patients and communities.
With the recent establishment of the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, and an incredibly motivated group of now second-year medical students taking over the LGBTQ+ Alliance, I expect to see great changes in the upcoming year.
What advancements have you seen/been a part of in Eastern Washington relating to LGBTQ+ equality, and what advancements do you hope to see going forward?
LGBTQ+ representation has come a long way in a short period of time. Ten years ago, when I graduated from high school in Kennewick, WA, we had to travel to Seattle in order to participate in any Pride-focused events. Being queer was taboo and people acknowledged it but didn’t talk about it publicly. Now, almost every city in Eastern Washington has their own pride organization (including Yakima), and the work that is being done year-round — not just during Pride Month — is encouraging.
Moving forward, I think several businesses and healthcare organizations will continue to engage with LGBTQ+ organizations in becoming more inclusive and more aware of the barriers that have been set in place against queer communities. We have witnessed that in just one year of leadership here in Yakima.