Dallas native, out lesbian, humble to a fault, doctor and proud
Laurie Seidel was a Greenhill School junior scribbling a math equation on the classroom board during her lunch period when poetry teacher Linda Woolley walked in.
“I said, ‘Laurie, you know I’m going to have erase this, right?” Woolley recalled.
Seidel understood, but she still offered Woolley this truth: “But math equations have an answer. Poetry doesn’t have an answer!”
Like it or not, Seidel, a 2007 graduate of the Addison college preparatory school, was going to learn poetry. It wasn’t her best subject, Seidel said, “but [Woolley] taught me how to write. She said, ‘You may want to go to medical school, but you still have to write.’ I still credit her and Greenhill for pushing me to write.”
Seidel wrote and studied her way to Emory University in Atlanta, graduating in 2011 with a degree in linguistics. And she wrote and studied her way back to Dallas to attend the UT-Southwestern Medical Center. She graduated this past May with a 4.0.
In all her spare time, Seidel served as chapter vice president of the American Medical Student Association, founded the Gender Equality Medical Society and mentored high school students to pursue health care careers in the Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program. She also volunteered at Resource Center’s Nelson-Tebedo Clinic.
Seidel met her partner, Maria Halmo, in medical school — after working a 36-hour shift no less.
But whether discussing writing or meeting her partner or starting a non-profit while in high school, Seidel maintains a sweet humility about all of it.
For example, when she received the 2015 Ho Din Award — the most prestigious award given by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Foundation — Seidel was stunned.
“I was totally floored,” she said. “To be given the award among 200 graduates, who are all true physicians and movers and shakers — I was just surprised.”
Looking at the roster of previous recipients was also fairly intimidating. Previous recipients include Nobel Prize Laureate Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, who was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1985.
“I’m graduating from medical school and expected to do amazing things. I don’t think of myself this way at all,” Seidel said. “I’m still tempted to call myself a medical student.”
Woolley, however, wasn’t surprised Seidel won the award.
“The award describes Laurie perfectly. She loves knowledge, and uses it as a tool,” the teacher said. “She sees a problem and addresses it.”
Take, for example, the high price of hearing aids.
An interest in deaf culture and years of American Sign Language courses lead Seidel to a volunteer teacher’s aide position in the Dallas Independent School District while she was still in high school.
“I was really interested in both honing my language skills and learning more about the deaf community and deaf culture by immersing myself in it,” Seidel explained. “I learned a lot about hearing aids through the process, and I realized that they are both incredibly expensive and usually re-usable.”
Not one to sit idly, the then-16-year old Seidel found a solution, establishing a hearing aid recycling program through the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas. People who were no longer using hearing aids could donate them to be distributed to other deaf or hard-of-hearing people.
Seidel ran the program for 10 years until starting her residency this past summer at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“It was an amazing learning experience. It was the first time I had ever brought a big idea of mine to fruition, and although it was certainly challenging at times, it was so rewarding to know that I was helping people with hearing loss connect with their loved ones,” she said.
Seidel may not be deaf, but she knows what it means to feel alone because you feel different.
“In some senses I think there are a lot of similarities between growing up gay with heterosexual parents and growing up deaf with hearing parents; in both cases it can feel isolating and lonely, because in both cases there’s a significant part of your identity and culture that you don’t share with your family,” she said.
“It meant a lot to me to know that I was playing a tiny role in helping bridge that divide for some deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, because I know what that isolation and loneliness feels like.”
Seidel grew as a medical student and as an individual as a Nelson-Tebedo Clinic volunteer. But she won’t say it. She gives all the credit to the Nelson-Tebedo staff and volunteers.
“They were my medical cheerleaders,” she said.
After volunteering for four years, Seidel spent her last day at the clinic not as a medical student but as a doctor.
“I was a doctor for a day,” she said enthusiastically.
J.P. Cano is the clinic’s coordinator. He distinctly remembers Seidel’s compassion and humility.
“Laurie was an amazing team player and volunteer with us at the clinic. I remember she was very well spoken and such a humble person,” he said. “Her passion for serving others and the community definitely showed in her interaction with clients. She even recruited additional volunteers to join her in assisting clinic staff.”
So, how does the unstoppable Seidel see herself?
Despite the international perception of Texas as a homophobic and racist state, she for one is a proud native Dallasite and Texan.
“To call myself a native Texan means being [part of the LGBT community] and an urban woman,” she said. “Dallas is thriving and the diversity there spans beyond sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”
She is also proud to be out and partnered.
“Never knowing any out physicians growing up, I thought I could only be physician or out, not both,” Seidel said. “I’m proud to be an out, partnered physician from Dallas. I’m proud of who I am. I get satisfaction from who I am, and what I do as a professional who cares for people.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 18, 2015.