Salem High School grad devoted to diversity
SALEM — Dr. Yvonne Patterson broke barriers as the first female African-American graduate of Salem High School to become a physician. She continues that devotion to diversity today as a doctor supporting the transgender community at Penn State.
“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” she said during a recent phone interview.
Patterson was one of three female University Health Services physicians honored last month on International Women’s Day and recognized for the work they do at UHS serving Penn State students. Patterson, who works as a UHS physician, is the Lions Team lead physician and was recognized “for her support of diversity and transgender care at Penn State,” an article on the Penn State website said.
According to the article, the Lions (Living In Our Natural Selves) Team “supports transgender and non-binary individuals through counseling, medical advocacy or referrals, and other support services. Patterson brings in new initiatives to this group such as bringing together local providers who care for the transgender community.”
She explained that she helps individuals explore their gender identity. Some choose to be female, some choose to be male and some choose not to label themselves at all, which is known as non-binary. Some may feel insecure because of how they feel or how they look. The Lions Team provides collaborative care, addressing not just medical care but mental health care, too.
They can provide hormone replacement therapy, information on sperm banking or egg harvesting, voice therapy or referrals for surgical options such as reconstructive surgery.
Patterson, whose parents John and Mary still live in Salem, graduated from Salem High School in 1975, but had already been exposed to the world of medicine as a youngster.
Her mother worked at what is now known as Salem Regional Medical Center as a medical technologist and Patterson worked in the hospital cafeteria in high school and holidays home from college. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Akron and earned her medical degree from Northeast Ohio Medical University which used to be known as the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy.
A board-certified pediatrician, she made the move to college health care and worked at the health center at Kent State University. She also worked as medical director at Clarion University.
“I always loved college health,” she said.
In 1992, she joined University Health Services at Penn State and she’s been there ever since. Her husband, Kevin is a physician as well, along with her father-in-law and brother-in-law. She said her aha moment came when she attended a transgender medicine convention in Philadelphia and she listened to a speaker who didn’t want to be female and how that person’s family realized they were more masculine than feminine.
In her own family, she could see the concept of people not wanting to be characterized in a certain way. Her husband is white and she could see in her own children how one tended to be more African-American than the other. She could understand how that could also happen with gender.
A colleague who was leading the Lions Team retired, leaving a void of care for the LBGTQA community. Diversity was a big part of her life and another colleague thought she would be a great person to lead the team. She had already done transgender care. She’s been the Lions Team lead physician for a couple of years now.
Patterson said she was really honored by the recognition on International Women’s Day.
“It’s nice to know other people are noticing what you’re doing and trying to make a difference,” she said, adding “it’s nice to have something challenging but rewarding.”
Her patients don’t always have family support and she said it’s “amazing that they allow me to part of their lives.”
Pride Month for the LBGTQA community isn’t actually until May, but Patterson said the Penn State campus will celebrate this month with activities throughout April. She said it’s important to have an open mind with people and to be welcoming.
She still comes to Salem to visit her parents with her family and said she loves to visit her old hometown.
“We’re extremely proud,” her mother Mary said.