A constellation of emotions and life passages frame Ryan Polly’s passion for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in health care.
As a trans man who has experienced both the technological advances of health care – and the sometimes uncomfortable moments that arise from biases and misunderstandings – Ryan believes that each one of us has an opportunity and a responsibility to learn how to treat one another in terms of who we really are.
Ryan’s personal story begins in San Diego, then veers north to the Pacific Northwest, where, growing up with a strong, compassionate mother he was given many opportunities to experience and cherish a breadth of diversity.
At the same time, he always felt that something was off. He wasn’t quite comfortable with who he was, but he couldn’t identify why. It wasn’t until after his mother had died, when he was in his early 20s and struggling, that he met a trans person at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
From that moment, he says, “I just knew.”
Fairly soon after, he began thinking about transitioning – but there was some trepidation. He had two young children, and he worried that they would suffer repercussions of this transformation. While working with a therapist, Ryan was asked, “do you want to teach your kids to live an honest, authentic life, or would you rather they watch you live a lie?” – a question that gave Ryan the strength to move forward.
In his mid-20s, Ryan went through the medical and surgical process to transition from female to male embodiment. In 2008 he moved to Vermont, where, after first taking a job in radiology with Fletcher Allen, he transferred to Learning and Development. He’s been there ever since.
As manager of Leadership, Learning and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Ryan feels that his life experience – as a trans man, as a father and step-father to five children, and as a patient — gives him a strong foundation for his work.
He feels strongly that acknowledging and understanding our differences is only a part of what it means to become a more equitable and inclusive organization. “It’s equally important to be aware of and to challenge our biases, because we all have them.”
Looking forward, he is excited about the roll-out of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion five-year Strategic Plan. As that work unfolds, he hopes to see an opening of perspectives for all of us.
“We all want to do what’s best for our patients,” he says. “I like to think of it as being more heart-centric in everything we do. My dream is that, in learning to be more aware of our biases and in being more inclusive, we can have even better outcomes.”