These days, one cannot buy a banana without being asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey, but six years ago, they were still a fairly novel and challenging development in the practice of medicine. Though anonymous evaluation can be intimidating, I initially embraced it. For starters, I thoroughly believed that clinical savvy falls flat in the absence of kindness, respect and good communication. Further, I had very little negative experience with the surveys. Generally speaking, I hit it out of the park pretty consistently.
I had not suffered any direct consequences at work for being transgender yet. Quite the opposite, really. The nurses suddenly seemed to like me more and Mary, my boss, had played a significant role in me coming out to the hospital staff by communicating some talking points which we prepared along with her personal support. Then again, the hospital had not yet suffered any consequences on my account either. A couple of months earlier, when people started to notice and/or complain about my transitioning appearance in my church, the leadership there wasted little time in kicking me to the curb. Initial reactions aside, would the same happen to me on the job if patients complained? For the first time, I began to fear public feedback.
The dreaded complaint arrived bundled in a summary of recently returned surveys. As we took pride in our customer service in the ER, these results were generally posted on our bulletin board. Scanning through the initial charts and graphs, my eyes gravitated to one of the free text comments listed below. “Unprofessional,” it said. “Inappropriate.” The anonymous author named me, described my appearance, and stated in no unclear terms that he or she found it wholly unacceptable for a person in my position. Instantly, my heart was in my throat.
Of course there was no chance that this would go unnoticed. Devastated, I photocopied the comment and walked down toward the administrative offices, where I found Laura, the Director of Nursing at her desk with the door open.
I asked her if she had seen the most recent surveys. She said she had not, so I passed the photocopy of the comments to her. She read it in silence, looking up when she was finished.
“As far as I know, this is the first,” I began. “I doubt it will be the last.”
“No, probably not.” she replied.
“Well, what should we do?” I asked.
She thought again for a moment, appearing as calm as I was agitated. Then, she picked up the paper, leaned over and tossed it in the wastebasket, adding, “It looks like they answered a question that we didn’t ask.”