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LGBT History Month – 4 amazing LGBT Britons that changed medicine


February is LGBT History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of LGBTQ+ people throughout history. To mark this, we have collected the histories of 4 LGBT Britons that changed medicine.

Sophia Jex-Blake (1840 – 1912)

Sophia Jex-Blake (1840 – 1912) was a leading campaigner for allowing women to study medicine, becoming the first women in Scotland to become a doctor.

Sophia Jex-Blake (1840 – 1912)
Sophie Jex-Blake

In 1865, Jex-Blake travelled to the United States to learn about women’s education. In 1867, she wrote directly to the President and Fellows of Harvard University, requesting admission to their medical school. They replied, saying “there is no provision for the education of women in any department of this university”.

Determined, Sophia decided to seek medical training in the UK and in 1869, she applied for medicine at the University of Edinburgh. While the medical faculty voted in favour of allowing her to study medicine, the University Court rejected her application on the grounds that the university could not make the necessary arrangements ‘in the interest of one lady’.

By the summer of that year, a second application was made by her and six other women, known as the Edinburgh Seven, requested matriculation and therefore the right to attend all the classes and exams for a medical degree. This second application was approved by the University Court and the University of Edinburgh became the first British university to admit women.

However, hostility grew. The Edinburgh Seven received obscene letters, were followed home, had fireworks attached to their front door & mud thrown at them. This culminated in the Surgeons’ Hall Riot in 1870, where an angry mob of over two hundred gathered, hurling mud, rubbish and insults at the women during a medical exam.

Although the events became national headlines, influential faculty members appealed to higher courts, which ruled the women should never have been allowed on the course. Their degrees were subsequently withdrawn. Many of the women went on to study at European universities. Women were eventually admitted onto degree programmes at other British universities in 1877, which much credit going to Jex-Blake and the Edinburgh Seven.

Having passed her medical exams at the University of Bern & King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians of Ireland, Sophia became the third women to register as a doctor in the country. In 1879, Jex-Blake returned to Edinburgh, becoming Scotland’s first woman doctor. There, she opened an outpatient clinic where poor women could receive medical attention for a few pence. This expands to a larger premises in 1885, becoming the Edinburgh Hospital and Dispensary for Women. This was Scotland’s first hospital for women staffed entirely by women.

Jex-Blake is widely believed to have been in a romantic relationship with Dr Margaret Todd, who later wrote an extensive biography of Jex-Blake’s life following her death in 1912.

Michael Dillon (1915 – 1962)

Michael Dillon (1915 – 1962) was the first trans man known to have undergone gender confirmation surgery. While in transition, Dillon wrote the first medical treatise on trans identity and gender affirming treatments.

Michael Dillon (1915-1962)
Michael Dillon

After graduating from Oxford in 1938, Dillon worked at a laboratory conducting brain research. In 1939, Dillon sought advice from a doctor who had been experimenting with testosterone (first synthesised in 1935). The doctor said he would prescribe Dillon with testosterone if he consulted with a psychiatrist. This psychiatrist went on to out Dillon as trans to his supervisor at the lab, forcing Dillon to relocate to Bristol and take a job at a garage.

During this time, he wrote `Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology`. The book is thought to be one of the first medical works to discuss trans identity and transitioning, distinguishing it from homosexuality, which were often conflated. Dillon laid out arguments for the medical treatment of those experiencing what would later be called “gender incongruence”, the mismatch between the sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. He discusses the failings of the purely psychotherapeutic treatment endured by those striving to align body with mind.

In 1943, he was able to change his name to Laurence Michael. Between 1945 and 1949, Dillon underwent a total of 13 surgeries over the course of four years, all the while undertaking his own medical education, attending lectures during term time and undergoing surgery during breaks. Over those four years, Dillon went through what would be the world’s first phalloplasty to be utilised as part of someone’s transition.

Dillon would qualify as a doctor in 1951, joining the Merchant Navy as a surgeon, sailing with the navy for six years. However, his Navy days ended abruptly when tabloid journalists tracked him down, outing him as a trans man. Dillon’s sympathetic shipmates kept unscrupulous reporters at bay whilst Dillon contemplated his next move. He decided to take refuge in India, where he was ultimately drawn to studying Buddhism. He became a Tibetan monk and wrote several books on Buddhism for English audiences. Sadly, Dillon’s health declined, and he died in 1962, aged 47.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was a British neurologist and writer who wrote popular, critically acclaimed books about neurology.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)
Oliver Sacks

Born in North London, Sacks studied medicine at Queen’s College Oxford, and later the Middlesex hospital, graduating in 1958. After completing his posts in Britain, he moved to the United States in 1961 to study neurology. Following his internship at Mount Zion Hospital, San Francisco, and a residency at UCLA, Sacks moved in 1965 to New York. From 1966, he worked as a consulting neurologist at the Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx and held various academic posts at New York and Columbia universities over the years.

His writing, with his accessible, yet profound accounts of neurological conditions, brought the world of neurology to countless readers. His works have been published in over 25 languages.

His most successful book, Awakenings (1973), focused on the lives of patients with “sleeping sickness”, encephalitis lethargica, keeping them in a comatose state since the disease swept the world at the end of the First World War. The book was adapted into a Harold Pinter play and an Oscar nominated film of the same name.

His numerous other bestsellers including The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (1985) and An Anthropologist on Mars (1995). His books are mostly collections of case studies of people, including himself, with neurological disorders. He also wrote prolifically, writing both peer-reviewed scientific articles and articles for a general audience in places such as the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.

The New York Times called him a “poet laureate of contemporary medicine,” and “one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century”. He received numerous awards and honours, including being made CBE in 2008.

Sacks kept his personal life private, until the publication of his autobiography, On the Move (2015). It told of his experiences of being gay, as well as his 35 years of celibacy until, in 2008, he met his partner, the writer Bill Hayes. They were together until Sack’s death in 2015.

Kevin Fenton (1966 – )

Professor Kevin Fenton (1966-) is a senior public health expert and infectious disease epidemiologist, with a distinguished profile of public health leadership roles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Professor Kevin Fenton (1966-)
Professor Kevin Fenton

Professor Fenton was born in Glasgow but grew up in Jamaica. Working as a government doctor in Lucea, Jamaica led him to concentrate on public health. After studying at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and University College London, Fenton became a senior lecturer on HIV epidemiology and consultant epidemiologist at the NHS’s Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre. In 2002, he became director of the centre’s HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections Department.

In 2005, Fenton then moved to the US to work for the national public health agency, the CDC. There, he initially as director of the National Syphilis Elimination Effort, then director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

Professor Fenton has since returned to the UK, becoming the Regional Director for London in the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID). Within this role, he acts as public health advisor to the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority.

In 2020, Fenton’s focused on supporting hard-hit minority British communities affected by the pandemic, writing two reports about the health inequalities faced by minority British people. The review led to recommendations which shaped a more equitable COVID-19 pandemic response. This work was recognised with Fenton ranking second in the 2021 edition of the annual Powerlist of the most influential Black Britons.

In December 2021, Professor Fenton was appointed Chief Advisor on HIV to the Government, as well as Chair of the HIV Action Plan Implementation Steering Group to oversee the delivery new HIV strategies for England. Professor Fenton has also been elected to be the next President of the UK Faculty of Public Health, being due to take up the position in June 2022.

Fenton was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to public health.


Both Rob and Tony the CERAD tutors were absolutely amazing, helpful and patient with us. Couldn’t have asked for better trainers or a better bunch of people to take this journey with!

Tia Sayer – Apprentice Emergency Medical Technician – East of England Ambulance Service

We’ve had the support we’ve needed, and the training has been good. So, for anyone looking to progress, or considering joining the ambulance service, I would recommend it. Absolutely!

Jack Bird, Apprentice Emergency Medical Technician, East of England Ambulance Service

I think the learning is very clear. Direct. All the tutors have been very professional. It’s been all positive experiences.

Keith Stead, Apprentice Emergency Medical Technician, East of England Ambulance Service

I like the practicals. I learn more this way because the job itself is so practical, you gain confidence this way.

Abby Hobbs, Apprentice Emergency Medical Technician, East of England Ambulance Service

I think the course so far has been really good. I’ve liked the practical sessions. It’s clear what we need to learn and there’s a lot of support as well.

Amy Palfreyman, Apprentice Emergency Medical Technician, East of England Ambulance Service

I would definitely recommend you guys to others. I feel like there’s a lot of support when needed. It’s been really enjoyable.

Imogen Fitzgerald, Apprentice Emergency Medical Technician, East of England Ambulance Service

Since I had graduated, I was a little uncertain with the route I would take as my lack of driving experience was holding me back from joining a trust and wanted to find another way, to consolidate my learning. With some background experience in mentoring, I soon enough came across MediPro and applied for the NQP clinical tutor role.

Since then, I have been very fortunate to work with a lovely team that have a similar insight to myself with making student contact count to give back and help students bridge that gap between the classroom and the road. Overall, l’ve felt more confident with deepening my clinical knowledge and helping seal the vast breadth of topics we may not always come across on the road often.

I strongly believe MediPro will play a huge part in this journey with the different opportunities available and I have high hopes for the future.

Pooja Kaur, Clinical Tutor, MediPro

Upon graduating last year, I was surprised to find a job advertised with MediPro in which I could come straight out of university and into training. This opportunity usually only presents itself after years of experience, so I was eager to give it a go. I was welcomed on board and made to feel comfortable by all staff throughout the past 6 months and have already been granted many opportunities as part of the company, including two new qualifications.

I still get time on the road to practice as a HCPC registered Paramedic, although the majority of my role is spent teaching and supporting others. This has gained me more confidence, knowledge, and professional development than I ever thought it would, and I’ve made some great friendships along the way.

Leah Marshall, Clinical Tutor, MediPro

Qualifying as a Paramedic, I feel like I’ve accomplished something I never thought I would be able to. I think it is an amazing job!

At the beginning, I joined MediPro with my FREC 3, which started me off with patient transport. Since then, I’ve progressed into technician and then straight onto paramedic, which I found was a great way of doing things.

The teaching at MediPro was brilliant. I found that it was very hands-on and very adaptable to how I like to learn.

My mentors have been brilliant. I literally wouldn’t have been able to do that without their help and guidance. They haven’t done it for me, but they have definitely helped and supported me to do it and complete this course. I couldn’t thank them more!

Abbi Turnbull, Paramedic, MediPro

My first experience of training with MediPro was just over 5 years ago when I undertook my Ambulance Technician training whilst looking for a change of career. Following the completion of the course, I was offered employment as an ambulance technician, supporting local NHS trusts in providing emergency and urgent care.

Since starting with MediPro I have continued to be supported throughout my career and they have enabled me to continue to develop both personally and professionally, working towards my ambition to qualify as a HCPC registered Paramedic.

Additionally, I have been offered and supported through a level 3 teaching qualification, as well as a mentor qualification. This has allowed me to broaden my practice and develop as a clinician, working in a dual role as an ambulance technician, mentoring students in practice, as well as in a teaching capacity.

Last year I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to apply for the MediPro Level 6 Diploma in Paramedic Practice, as an alternative to university this suited my situation perfectly. Despite being a non-university programme I was still fully supported through every step of my journey & I now work as an HCPC registered Paramedic for MediPro with the ambition to consolidate my practice and develop my teaching skills.

Overall, MediPro has provided me with amazing opportunities and support since starting my career 5 years ago. The knowledge, skills and experiences have enabled me to develop as a professional and as a person, which has been invaluable. I’ve also gained some brilliant working relationships and friendships along the way.

Alex Hutchinson, Clinical Tutor, MediPro

I completed my level 3 CERAD in March of this year, this was the third course I have done with Medipro in the last 14 months. In all of the courses I have done with Medipro I have found nothing but genuine, friendly, top class people. 

The level 3 CERAD was intense and challenging but Colin was excellent in his delivery, explanation and constructive criticism. 

Can not recommend MediPro enough, I have booked onto my Freuc 5 at the end of this year.  

Phil Brazier, Level 3 CERAD

Since graduating from my Sports Science and Injury Rehabilitation degree, I have been desperate to work in the healthcare industry, particularly emergency care. When I came across the MediPro ECA apprenticeship, I knew I had to apply. The opportunity to learn new skills, whilst gaining practical experience in the field, seemed too good to be true – but it has proven to be the opposite! 

The opportunity has not only allowed me to learn more about this complex profession, but grow in confidence as a person. The experience is designed in such a way that I was allowed to gain confidence in my ability, before increasing my responsibility. This was primarily done by working with other welcoming and experienced colleagues, who were all extremely helpful in guiding me through the process. The leadership and mentor team have been with me every step of the way, ensuring that I am well equipped to operate to the high standards that are required, whilst also showing great trust in me to put my skills into practice. 

MediPro has allowed me to access my dream career and have given me an experience so far that has ensured it will be a lifelong journey. 

Emily Bonham, ECA Apprenticeship, MediPro

Medipro is a very responsive apprenticeship training provider. They help us build and retain a very skilled, competent and patient care focused team of Emergency Care Assistants.

They also provide Paramedic training for Ambulance Technicians helping us to develop critical skills for our business.

The programme has helped us train and develop our workforce and has been extremely well organised and facilitated, and I am pleased to say that skills development goes from strength to strength.

We have found our working relationship with MediPro to be a very proactive one and we look forward/ to continuing to work together.

James Tavener
Training Manager, Bristol Ambulance EMS

MediPro have become a key support to our operations, helping us offer a safe, compliant and superior medical response service to our clientele. They have assisted us in the development of new competency programmes for our staff, new documentation flows for our patients and advised on new equipment and practices that improve our immediate treatment delivery. In addition, they have been a consistent and reliable source of guidance and advice throughout our work together. I would highly recommend their services which are operationally outstanding and financially very reasonable.

Peter Burke, Operations Manager, Teesside

I am a commercial Diver from Trinidad and Tobago.

I chose MediPro as it was recommended to me by a friend.

The teacher was very knowledgeable and made the lessons fun so it was easy to absorb. I am new to the Medical Diving field so it was very exciting learning more and going deeper into medical conditions and illnesses specific to diving. Being a diver, it will be a great asset for me to recognise and be able to administer aid should it be needed.

Kevin, Diver Medic Technician

I have been attending training at MediPro for 10 years. The offshore medic and distance learning refresher is great. Lovely people, great attitude, great educators.

Julian Searle
Offshore Medic Refresher
Distance Learning

The clinical placement in the unique Urgent Care Centre, North Tees Hospital, is exactly suited for the Offshore Medic course, allowing me to demonstrate all previous Learnt Theoretical, for urgent Primary care assessments in the field.

The mixture of GPs & Urgent Care Practitioner Nurses provided a 24/7 facility for a diverse range of presentations. I also spent time in the busy accident & emergency department.

Martin Hagues, Offshore Medic