Pronoun pins prove popular among staff, patients at hospitals that adopt them

When Marcelle Davis, PhD, joined Richmond, Va.-based VCU Health System in the fall of 2020, a large part of her goal revolved around initiatives to improve inclusivity.

One such opportunity came about during her first week as VCU Health's inaugural director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

A medical student reached out to her to ask if the health system could provide pronoun pins for residents, but she hit several roadblocks as she investigated the issue due to COVID-19 restrictions, Dr. Davis told Becker's. Then earlier this year, she asked about it again, which led to introducing pronoun pins to VCU Health's 12,000 employees.

Dr. Davis, who now is vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at VCU Health, said the five-hospital health system's marketing team designed the pins, got them made and paid for the first 5,000 pins. The initial order of 5,000 pins came in at the end of April, and VCU Health began distributing them in May. There are four pin offerings — she/her/hers; he/him/his; they/them/theirs; and Ask me about my pronouns.

As of June 13, more than 3,000 pins had been distributed to employees.

"Using correct pronouns is a basic way to show respect for an individual's gender identity. We can't determine a person's gender identity by their outward appearance. We certainly can't determine what pronoun they identify with from their outward appearance," Ms. Davis said. "So, the pronoun pins share that information openly and can make individuals feel safe and included because we're all identifying ourselves with our pins."

VCU Health plans to place an order for more pins later this month.

Meanwhile, the feedback from employees has been positive, said Ms. Davis.

She said the pins are voluntary, and each employee who receives one also receives educational information on the  value of the pins and the purpose of them in the workplace.

"We haven't had any pushback. Employees who don't want to wear pronoun pins, that's fine, but no pushback at all," she added.

VCU Health isn't the only healthcare organization offering pronoun pins or buttons to employees.

Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor began doing so in August 2021, according to the Bangor Daily News. Pronoun buttons were offered to staff, patients and visitors. There are several offerings — he/him/his, she/her/hers, he/they, she/they and they/them/theirs.

EMMC patient experience director Sarah Joy told the Bangor Daily News: "Using someone's desired gender pronouns is one of the main ways to show respect for their identity."

Hospital spokesperson Amy Kenney said June 13 that she anticipates more than 1,200 buttons have been handed out to employees and patients total. The hospital has 4,000 employees.

"We have received a great, positive response about them so far. People have been grateful for the inclusion effort," she told Becker's.

Dr. Davis, with VCU Health, said she expects more hospitals to adopt similar pronoun initiatives, particularly given the importance of ensuring an optimal patient experience.

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