Pride and Prescriptions: Why My Work in Healthcare is Central to My Identity

As LGBTQ pride celebrations in the U.S. reach a crescendo this month, I’ve been reflecting on my life as a gay man—and the fact that this summer marks 20 years since I embarked on a then-unlikely career in healthcare communications. These two strands of my life are absolutely connected: in fact, being out led me to my career path, a journey that I find more exciting than ever.

I came out after arriving for college at the University of Texas from my small hometown in East Texas. In the tolerant environment of Austin, I was able to be unreservedly honest about who I was for the first time.

While attending UT, one of my seminal experiences was working as an intern at an organization now called Equality Texas, where I cut my teeth writing press releases and crafting media strategies for both mainstream media outlets and gay community publications.

Shortly thereafter, I began pursuing entry-level positions at PR agencies in New York. I wasn’t particularly interested in healthcare communications, but while interviewing with a leading agency’s healthcare practice, I was intrigued by the opportunity to work on a client account focused on HIV treatments. And the people with whom I interviewed saw my experience working with the gay press as an asset. They made me an offer, which I didn’t hesitate to accept, and I moved to New York.

I settled in to the job and immediately felt in my element. I was thrilled to support the work of scientists and physicians and by the feeling that we were participating in social conversations that really mattered.

I continue to believe that the advances in HIV treatment demonstrate the best of what is possible when the biopharmaceutical industry focuses on big problems and innovates relentlessly. However, because we’ve been living in a golden era of HIV treatment for over two decades, it’s easy to take such incredible medical progress for granted. But it’s only through the focused efforts of the biopharma industry—together with the trailblazing work of the pioneering HIV activists who created the modern paradigm for patient advocacy—that HIV-positive people now can expect a normal lifespan.

Since the day I started my first job in healthcare communications, I’ve always been open in a matter-of-fact way about my sexuality. I feel lucky that I’ve found a line of work in which I’ve never had to hide who I am, and in three important ways it has facilitated my success:

1) It’s helped me create more authentic connections with people. Business is built on relationships, but nowhere is that more true than in the communications field. When you can forge relationships with colleagues based on a depth of openness and respect, it creates a well of trust that can last the course of a career.

2) I’m able to view healthcare from a place of empathy for people who are vulnerable. Although society has made much social progress when it comes to recognition and rights for gay people, our community still suffers from marginalization and discrimination. As a gay man, I’m able to put myself in the shoes of people who find themselves on the outside looking in.

3) I understand how impactful the patient voice can be. With W2O’s collective work across a wide variety of disease states, I’ve had the opportunity to become invested in many areas beyond HIV/AIDS. I continue to most enjoy working in spaces in which the patient voice is strong and thinking about how to most effectively speak to, and engage patients in, their own care. I’ve helped introduce exciting and life-enabling medical innovations and worked directly with patients in numerous therapeutic categories, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C, and rare diseases—to name a few.

For me, being proud means having an integrated life in which I can be exactly who I am, always. I’m grateful that it’s led me on a career path of which I am similarly proud.

Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson

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