Community Connection: How One Doctor Is Making a Difference in the LGBTQ Community

Building community connection as a doctor isn’t always easy. Reaching out to the local community requires time, passion, and an eagerness to meet people where they are. This can be a challenge for medical professionals, who are often overwhelmed with hectic schedules. Dr. Christopher Swales, MD, a family medicine doctor with Dignity Health Medical Foundation – Woodland and Davis, does all this and more. Dr. Swales spends time reaching out to his local LGBTQ community, which includes volunteering every year with Davis Pride.

Serving the Community

Dr. Swales moved to Davis, California, in 2014, the year after a tragedy prompted a heartbroken mom to start Davis Pride. In 2013, Lawrence “Mikey” Partida, who is gay, suffered a brutal assault that was determined to be a hate crime. He had severe injuries that left him hospitalized for two weeks and needing rehabilitative therapy. His mom, Gloria Partida, founded the nonprofit Davis Phoenix Coalition to celebrate diversity and help prevent hate crimes and bullying in the community. Now, Dr. Swales and others volunteer with Davis Pride to reach out to the community and show their support.

“The LGBTQ youth need to know they’re supported,” Dr. Swales said. “It really helps to have the whole community come together and say, ‘We support all of you. And no matter where you are in your journey, we’re here for you.’ And that’s really what this festival is about: letting people know, ‘If you’re LGBTQ — or your family is — you’re not alone and the community is here with you.'”

Getting Involved

Dr. Swales began helping with Davis Pride soon after he moved to the community. He knew he wanted to get involved as soon as he heard about the event, and he’s been helping ever since. Some years he can’t volunteer as much as he’d like because of responsibilities at his clinic, but he always makes sure he helps out in some way.

“It’s been really fun,” he said. “They do a 5K run and a 10K walk that’s in the morning, and the afternoon’s a free festival.”

Performers and celebrities also participate, making a fun-filled day that helps build awareness and bring the community together.

“It’s all free. Anyone can come. It’s very family-focused and family-friendly,” Dr. Swales said. “There’s usually an area for kids and for teenagers. We have bounce houses and face painting and that sort of stuff. It’s really designed to be a community event to bring everyone together. It’s not just for the LGBTQ community, even though it’s focused on exposure and letting people know that we’re here.”

Dr. Swales typically helps organize the event as much as he can while working full time, and he volunteers on the day of the event. He helps set up beforehand and clean up afterward. He also directs volunteers, and usually runs the first aid tent. He says he loves helping with Davis Pride, and believes that all doctors should be involved with their communities somehow.

Building Connections

“It’s important for doctors to get involved no matter what, regardless of their specialty,” he said. “Being gay, I’m interested in Pride. But I like doing any educational events, and I would love to set up more.”

Dr. Swales also hosts educational opportunities throughout the Davis community all year long. During Women’s Heart Month, for example, he presented an educational seminar, along with other providers from Dignity Health.

“I think it’s important for physicians to be an active part of the community to increase the level of trust,” he said. “When you’re involved in outreach, the community gets to know you better. Patients learn that you’re not just the bearer of bad news — you’re someone they can connect with, person-to-person. So, it’s important to be involved because that’s how you build trust.”

When a doctor inspires community connection, it can make a world of difference to the people in that community. Dr. Swales has discovered that getting involved means just as much to him as it does to the people he helps.