Prep Rally, One on one interview of Dr. Terrance Weeden

Photos Courtesy of Dr. Terrance Weeden

PrideIndex recently chatted with Chicago-based pediatrician and adolescent medicine physician Dr. Terrance Weeden. Weeden received his medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine Georgia Campus. He is affiliated with Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Below he shares why he chose Chicago to “deliver his niche care,” the importance of working with LGBTQ+ adolescents, and the community’s misconceptions regarding PrEP and PEP. 

PrideIndex (PI) Thank you, Terrance, for agreeing to be interviewed. How are you today?

Terrance Weeden (TW): Doing well. Thanks for having me.

PI: First, I’d like to ask you to give us the background story that led you to where you are today?

TW: Sure. I’m originally from a small town in Alabama with three traffic lights in the middle of nowhere. I grew up interested in working in medicine, and by the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to become a pediatrician. I was inspired by a couple of different things. One was shadowing a black male pediatrician. That early exposure and visibility, and seeing him practice.. I saw myself in him and in that role, was significant and essential to getting me to where I am today.

Another thing was that I lost my father to cancer at a very young age. And so that also sparked an interest in medicine within me. So a combination of those things – losing my father to cancer at a young age creating an interest in science, as well as envisioning myself as a physician while I was shadowing another black male pediatrician in high school and college – really motivated and inspired me to get me where I am today. It has been a long journey (college, grad school, med school, residency and now fellowship), but I enjoy what I do. I’m finishing my last year of fellowship training in Adolescent Medicine in Chicago.

PI: I’m looking at your background, and I see that you attended medical school and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Georgia. What was that journey like to go from Georgia to Chicago? 

TW: After I finished my med school training in Georgia, I returned to Alabama for my residency. So, I actually moved from Alabama to Chicago for fellowship. I chose Chicago because I really wanted to get out of the South. I wanted a different experience (not knowing that a pandemic would ensue shortly after finding out that I was moving to Chicago). During my residency training, I realized I wanted to specialize in a very niche area, which is in gender-affirming care for adolescents and young adults, and HIV prevention in that same age group, with a particular interest in Black and Brown youth. With that mind, I knew I had to move to a large city to get that specialized training.  And I really liked Chicago during my interview, as well.

PI: Well, on behalf of everybody from Chicago, I welcome you. And I do thank you for choosing our city. We are lucky.

TW: Thank you for having me.

PI: How long have you been here? Since 2019?

TW: I moved here in June 2020, during the pandemic. So, there’s a matching process as you finish med school and as you finish residency (to match into residency and fellowship respectively). I say it is similar to the NFL Draft – or like dating. You “audition” or send your application to different programs that you’re interested in. Programs interview you, and you rank the places where you are interviewed, while programs also rank each of their applicants. And so, on Match Day, for residency and fellowship, you find out where you will go for the next part of your training.

PI: Why is it important to work with LGBTQ+ adolescents?

TW: Because they need to be heard, especially in this current political climate. They are at risk for so many things (depression, anxiety, suicidality, self-harm). And I believe in this current political climate, with the ongoing hostile rhetoric around gender-affirming care, it’s even more important to create a safe space for LGBTQ teens, adolescents, and young adults. They really need to be heard and to have a space for them to be their true authentic selves, something that previous generations did not have. There is a lot of current negative rhetoric around the topic and idea of gender-affirming care – which I feel is out of fear and misunderstanding.

PI: I read about PrEP and should know more about it. What exactly is it? Why do you think it’s important?

TW: Yeah, that’s a good question. PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis to HIV. PrEP is an oral medication taken daily, and if taken daily is shown to be up to 99% effective at preventing someone from getting HIV. (There is also a new injectable form of PrEP – one shot given every month for 2 months, then every 2 months after that). There’s also PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis to HIV, an oral medication used in emergencies, which must be started within 72 hours (and taken daily for a month) to prevent HIV after a possible exposure to HIV.  What attracted me to this field of medicine is my own experience with accessing PrEP. While I was still living in Alabama, I had difficulty getting access to initiate PrEP – I felt that the physician judged me and reinforced his own negative bias onto me- and that motivated me to pursue my clinical interest in HIV prevention. Black and Brown communities, especially those identifying as LGBTQ, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV (compared to White communities), despite our advances in modern medicine. HIV is a preventable disease. HIV is no longer a death sentence, which is great, but we must have discussions within Black and Brown communities about PrEP and HIV.

PI: What do you think the biggest misconception is with the LGBTQ+ community regarding the resistance to signing up for PrEP and PEP?

TW: There’s a stigma that you’re promiscuous and dirty if you’re on PrEP or PEP. We, as a community, should be more open to discussions regarding the stigma around sex and HIV. Bias exists in patients and healthcare providers – I believe that this is one of the barriers preventing some folks from getting on PrEP and PEP. Besides bias, there is also lack of access to care, with someone familiar or competent with PrEP and PEP.

PI: Hypothetically speaking, if I were in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive but I’m negative. However, you couldn’t get me to take PrEP if my life depended on it. What would you say to me to change my mind? 

TW: Yeah, that’s a good question. So if your partner is undetectable, then there’s very little risk that you could get HIV, assuming that partner is undetectable. U =U, undetectable = untransmittable. If there is a medicine that can prevent a preventable illness, then why not take it? Why not protect yourself from HIV and help prevent the spread of an illness that continues to have a negative impact in our community? Black and Brown LGBTQ folks have a significantly higher risk of getting HIV than any other race/ethnicity – which risk does not discriminate on the basis of status or education or age.

PI: Right now, we live in a world where politicians and religious groups want to ban books. Do you believe we will ever live in a world where people will be more loving, tolerant, or accepting of folks that are different? 

TW: I hope we get to that point. It wasn’t that long ago that interracial marriage was illegal. And there’s still a lot to be done regarding racial equity and equity. I am hopeful that things will get better. I never thought that gay marriage would become legal in my lifetime or that we would ever have a Black president. So I think things will slowly change, and there will be more acceptance and understanding of gender-affirming care and our trans community -this will require educating folks in addition people willing to come together to respectfully talk about their disagreements.

PI: You work for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. Do you see yourself working for a social services/community-based organization?

TW: Yes, that’s the goal once I finish my fellowship training to work in a more community setting, not necessarily an academic one. I’ve always been more of a community mindset – I realized that there is a lot more to medicine than the four walls of a teaching hospital.

PI: If you could say one thing to offer the LGBTQ+ youth encouragement, what would you tell them?

TW: Be patient because things will continue to get better. Be confident in who you are – you are who you are, and no one can take that away from you. Learn to love yourself, even when it seems like no one else does. Be patient with yourself as well because everyone has a different journey towards self-acceptance. Be quick to educate and teach. But be slow to act out in anger and frustration. Then also learn to advocate for yourself.  Know that you matter, and you are loved. And that you are worthy, worthy of being loved, and worthy of receiving love and the happiness and joy that life can bring.