New Perspectives

When Oliver Garbo transitioned to male, his medical school was supportive. So was Brittney Diebold-Garbo, who’s now his wife. The two doctors-in-training will use insights they gained in their practices.

Brittney Diebold-Garbo and Oliver Garbo. Photo: J. Long

Oliver Garbo and Brittney Diebold-Garbo met at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCU).

“We met within the first month or two of school,” said Oliver. “She actually had a boyfriend at the time.”

“Eh, it was an ending relationship, let’s just say that,” said Brittney, with a laugh.

Before long, Oliver, a transgender male, realized that he needed to transition while he was in medical school.

“I started during the second half of my second year,” said Oliver.

He said that some people have been amazed that he made that transition while going through the stress of medical school.

“For me, it was easier than people would think,” he said. “This was my family. I got to transition in the comfort of my home. If anyone on this campus ever had a problem, it was never said out loud.”

Brittney said, “Everyone was very openly supportive. The spotlight wasn’t necessarily on you. We were all studying for [medical] boards while most of his changes were happening, so he was kind of protected in that sense.”

Oliver said, “I don’t think I would have gotten through boards if I hadn’t transitioned. I realized that now was the time. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Oliver and Brittney at May 2017 KCU graduation. Photo courtesy of KCU.

At KCU, Oliver said, Britt Johnson, a faculty member who has a law degree, helped him petition for his name change so that he didn’t have to hire a lawyer. Student Affairs was able to get connected with a psychologist who then referred him for his hormone treatments.

Oliver said they both had great support from the university’s Student Affairs.

“We had a meeting together to come up with the best plan on how I should do this. Should I take time off or not?”

Brittney said that university officials told them: “It’s whatever you need. We just want to know so we’re in the loop and we can help you to make sure you know we’ve got your back.”

Oliver said, “It was important that I had top surgery before going through rotations. … The focus should be on my education and the patients, as opposed to them saying, ‘Why is your voice deep? Why do you have facial hair and breasts?’ It was uncomfortable for me, obviously.”

Brittney said, “We weren’t married at that time, but they recognized our support system and our relationship was something that really helped us succeed together.”

Oliver said, “We became best friends, and that’s the foundation of our relationship. She was my support during coming out.”

“You were my support in ending my horrible relationship,” said Brittney.

They married in October 2015. Both are 27, and their birthdays are just nine days apart, with Oliver being older.

They both said that the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in June 2015 was a big factor for them.

“We were studying for boards when that was happening,” Brittney said. “We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get married. He didn’t change his birth certificate, the gender marker on it. That’s a whole other process. You have to get a lawyer and now you don’t know if you want to do that for different reasons.”

Brittney and Oliver said that KCU made the transition even easier by changing his name, his email and many areas without even asking.

Brittney said it really eased their stress. “That was just nice for him because we were trying to put applications in and doing all this stuff, and it was really nice the school was so proactive. That made a big difference.”

Oliver said he is going into family medicine so he will be treating all ages. They both spent the last two years doing clinicals in Denver through KCU and they plan to move to Denver to start their practices.

(L to R) Dr. Hahn, Oliver Garbo, Brittany Diebold-Garbo, and Dr. Ron Holt at KCU May, 2017 graduation. Photo courtesy of KCU.

Before that, though, they will take a small break and travel to San Francisco to visit Dr. Ron Holt, a KCU professor who has been a close friend and mentor. They will also go camping in Montana and Washington.

Oliver said, “I originally thought I wanted to do pediatric endocrinology to focus on trans kids. But I realized I need that diversity. I want to include that in my practice.”

Brittney said she was still deciding what she wants to specialize in.

“I’m interested in surgery, ob/gyn, cardiology, radiology.  I’m hoping in the next few months to zero it down to what I actually want to do,” she said.

Oliver said, “I have three years of residency before I’ll start practicing. And I’m not exactly sure what it will look like when I get out.”

“We’re not sure what laws will be like in general,” said Brittney.

Even now, she said, things are changing in how they can pay back their loans with special programs.

Oliver said: “There’s kind of two flavors to get to be a medical doctor and that is getting your DO [doctor of osteopathic medicine], which is what we did, and an MD is technically a doctor of allopathic medicine.”

Brittney said it is “similar to what most people might perceive as what a chiropractor does. I hate making those comparisons, because it’s so different. We spend a lot more time learning about the anatomy and some of the really fine mechanisms of how the body moves and how it relates to the mind.”

Oliver said, “It’s kind of like the philosophy of osteopathy. We believe that the mind, body, and spirit are all interconnected.”

Brittney said, “And it takes all three for a person to be in balance, to be truly healthy.”

Oliver and Brittney have both experienced situations that were difficult because of Oliver’s gender identity and their marriage, but they both said they’ve learned ways to handle them. For that reason, they said, these experiences will help them when they practice medicine.

Oliver said, “I was sitting in an interview that I cut short because the residents started complaining about these new patient forms that they had their patients all fill out that had sexual orientation and gender identity on the intake form, which is very important, but they were complaining about it and they said, ‘these LGBT forms and whatever.’”

“I wish you had stood up and said, ‘Hi, I’m the whatever,’” said Brittney with a laugh.

“I pass as cisgender,” Oliver said, “and that gives me some anxiety in situations like that. Do I stand up? Do I say something? Do I leave because they’re never going to see me again? What kind of influence do I make? There is this fine line that we have to teeter as students.”

Brittney said, “I talk about having a husband, and they assume it’s a cisgender husband. I’ve been around co-workers on my rotation that will talk about their opinions about that specific population, and that makes me really uncomfortable. Do I say something? Will that affect my grade? Will that really reflect on me? But there was an instance where I did have to say something when someone said some pretty offensive and hurtful things.”

Oliver said, “I don’t get offended very easily. I want you to ask whatever you want. I will tell you if it does [offend], but I’m still going to answer it. You can tell when someone is being malicious and when there is good intent. And maybe they just need some education on why that is offensive. ‘How can I learn how to re-word that?’

“And that’s what we try and do every time we give educational talks. If you come from a place of love, people embrace that and learn. We’re all people that are trying to learn and understand each other.”

“We are all human, and all you can do is laugh and learn.”