"Voices of Mayo" is a series that highlights Mayo staff and their stories, exploring their diverse backgrounds, the challenges they face, the opportunities they have been given, and their experiences at Mayo Clinic.
Evelyn Carroll, M.D., a medical resident in Radiology, did something in the summer of 2020 that she says was the most liberating moment of her life: She came out as transgender to her colleagues. Dr. Carroll shares the story of how that moment unfolded and the support she has received since.
Read her story below.
Last summer ― June 2020 ― I finally did something that most people never think twice about. But for me, it was one of the most liberating and happiest days of my life. I brought my authentic self, as a transgender woman, to work for the first time in my life. To personally commemorate this step forward in my personal growth, I sent out a tweet to my small group of Twitter followers, which subsequently went viral.
It was a big moment for me personally because I have struggled with my gender identity since I was very young ― from around the age of 5 or 6. But I did not have the words or knowledge to describe or understand my experience growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s. Gender identity was not a topic that was ever mentioned or discussed in school. And the few times a transgender person was ever mentioned in the media, it was universally in a negative or stigmatizing light. Open, casual transphobia was the rule ― not the exception ― sadly.
In high school health class, I vividly recall the day I first learned the term "transgender." I remember having a near panic attack in the class because I was worried the term applied to me. I panicked because of the potential implications being transgender might have on my future, both socially and professionally. In high school, I knew I wanted to be a physician. I was worried that being transgender and a doctor were mutually exclusive. If I did try to transition, it could potentially ruin my life socially and professionally.
As a result, I suppressed my gender identity for many years in what I now realize in hindsight was gender dysphoria, hoping it would resolve naturally with time. But, of course, it never did. It only got worse. Eventually, the mental gymnastics of trying to convince myself that I was just a cisgender straight male came crumbling down in the fall of 2019. That was when I finally sought guidance and help from a gender therapist at Mayo Clinic. And that's when I finally realized that I needed to be Evelyn and transition.
Before I came out publicly, keeping my transgender identity private was a struggle. I knew that I was going to transition probably a good eight months or so before I actually sent that tweet. Once I realized that I was going to transition and that I was transgender, I felt proud instead of being embarrassed by it and wanting to hide it. I just wanted to tell everyone: "You know what? This is the real me."
My interest in medicine started when I was young. I got interested in science at an early age. In high school, I started to take all of the advanced science classes my school had to offer. Within the sciences, I really enjoyed human biology the most. I started to think medicine could be a good fit for me because I loved the science behind it. I liked the humanistic side of it, as well.
I grew up in Plymouth, a suburb of Minneapolis, and went to a large public high school. I didn't like how big it was. It was very competitive, and I felt like I got lost at times. It was hard to make friends.
When I was applying to colleges, I had an interest in pre-med. I chose Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, because I wanted a change of scenery and a smaller school with a strong pre-med curriculum. Creighton hit all of those boxes for me.
I had no connection to Omaha, but it was fun living in a completely different state and city for four years. I ended up being a biology major on a pre-med track. As I continued job-shadowing and biomedical research, my interest in medicine continued to grow.
I attended the University of Minnesota Medical School. There my interest in diagnostic radiology blossomed.
As radiologists, we're solving clinical puzzles with each imaging study we interpret. We have a broad knowledge base. And I like that we are constantly communicating with other physicians to help the patient get the best care. I also really enjoy that radiology has some procedural components, so there is some patient interaction. And then, lastly, the people — I really like the people in radiology. They're very friendly, and I felt like I just clicked with them.
I applied to diagnostic radiology residencies in 2016. I was mainly looking at Midwest programs, and Mayo Clinic was my top choice because of its world-renowned reputation, location close to home and top-notch radiology residency training. I ranked it No. 1 in the residency match and was lucky enough to match here. The residency also has been flexible, which wasn't an attribute on my radar at the time, but it ended up being important for me.
I started at Mayo Clinic in Rochester in 2017 after completing my transitional year at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. I have had an incredibly positive residency experience here at Mayo.
During the past year of my residency training in particular, I have felt very connected to the outstanding Mayo Clinic culture of "the needs of the patient come first." As fourth-year radiology residents, we do independent overnight calls. It is one of the few radiology residency programs left in the country that does independent overnight calls, where we residents run the Radiology Department after hours. It is a little scary to think about at first. But the reality is, we're well-prepared during residency, and we all do a great job.
The autonomy has been amazing for my own learning and growth. I realized how much of those values and skills had been instilled in me throughout my training, making sure that we're always doing the right thing for the patient. I felt like I did a lot of collaborating, especially with Emergency Medicine, Surgery and Neurology. When you start to work with the same people over and over again, you build that trust and communication, which is so important.
After I revealed to my gender therapist that I would be transitioning, including at work, we started forming a plan. First, I found a local transgender support group in Rochester and started seeing an endocrinologist in Mayo Clinic's Transgender and Intersex Specialty Care Clinic in January 2020.
Through those connections, I found out Mayo Clinic has an excellent gender transition toolkit and guidelines created by the LGBTI Mayo Employee Resource Group. It gave me a road map essentially with all the things I would have to do to successfully transition at work.
The first thing I did — which was the first step in the toolkit — was talk to my leaders. For me, that was my residency program director, Dr. Katie N. Hunt. I told her that I'm transgender and would be transitioning in the near future during residency. She was immediately supportive, as was Dr. Annie Packard, the assistant program director and my mentor.
From there, we brought in Dr. John Knudsen, one of the key diversity and inclusion liaisons in our department. We talked about steps that needed to be done in advance to make this a successful transition in the workplace, including announcing the news to my Radiology colleagues.
I crafted a memo from a template in the gender transition toolkit that would announce my transition to my Radiology colleagues. I picked a day to send it, which was followed immediately by a memo of support from my program directors and chief residents. I took several days off to allow for all Information Technology programs, like the Mayo Clinic Directory, my email address, etc., to be updated and for my own emotional processing of everything.
Unfortunately, I was doing all of this during a pandemic, which brought additional hurdles. It made it harder to get a new Mayo Clinic access identification card photo because there were only certain dates available. Also, my legal name change with Olmsted County was delayed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Mayo Clinic's name change policy requires your name to be legally changed with Social Security before it can be updated on your Mayo Clinic access identification card, the Mayo Clinic Directory, email, and Plummer Chart and other Information Technology applications.
I was able to use my affirmed name, "Evelyn," as a nickname, but my old name was still present in the Mayo Clinic Directory and email, and on my Mayo Clinic access identification card, in the interim. This was unfortunate because it instantly outed me as transgender. It took about another month before I finally got my name legally changed and subsequently my full name changed at Mayo Clinic.
That was probably the biggest bump in the road in terms of transitioning at work.
Overall, the Radiology Department has been extremely supportive and the experience has been really positive. Initially, when I returned after a few personal days off, I had received many messages of support from colleagues around the department, which were very uplifting. There was the occasional misgendering at the beginning, but I expected that. It was never with ill intent.
People have been very nice and receptive to corrections. It's actually been many months now since the last time I was misgendered.
And today? I feel like I'm living the truest, most authentic version of myself. It sometimes feels like I'm living in a dream, quite honestly. For so long, I hid my true self, paralyzed by my own fears of transitioning and the stigma of being a transgender woman. But now that I've finally transitioned, I can confidently say that I have never felt more free and happy to be myself: a proud transgender woman.