Life Changing Moments: Living Authentically, Dr. Rhett Brown

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For Dr. Rhett Brown, it was not easy to be gay in the South.  He personally witnessed two collegues fired for being who they are. So, Dr. Brown decided to make a stand. After spending time in Atlanta, and seeing how living authentically can benefit him, he chose to never hide who he was again, by writing protections into his employment agreements.

And, if you find yourself struggling to define your authentic self, perhaps a coach can help. Reach out to

The 2024 residency match is fast approaching.

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This is a special 4-week group coaching experience specifically designed to help you identify and present your best self during match interviews. All participants receive an individual coaching session and four group coaching sessions.

The first cohort begins October 10th, at 7pm Eastern.

The cost for either cohort is $475, and American Society of Physician Members receive a special discount.

You can get more details and register at

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Rhett Brown, MD, is a family physician recently completing his 30th year in practice in Charlotte NC.  A native of Charlotte he earned a BA in Economics at Davidson College and completed medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina.  In 1992 he completed his residency in family medicine at Atrium Health where he was elected chief resident.

Dr. Brown served as the President of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians in 2016.  He was selected as among top physicians in Charlotte by Charlotte Magazine in 2010, 2011 and 2013.  He was recognized a physician of the year for Charlotte by Creative Loafing in 2015 and received the inaugural Legacy Award from Charlotte Pride in 2016.  He was recognized as one of the top 100 physicians in NC in 2021 and 2022.  In 2020 he was recognized as Health Equity Physician of the Year for Charlotte NC. 

He is a certified by WAPTH (World Association for Providers of Transgender Health) and was a founding member of Charlotte Transgender Health Care Group in 2012 and earned certification in Diversity, Inclusion and Equity from eCornell University in 2021.

He serves a diverse population of patients from birth through the end of life with a focus on care for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

He recently opened his own practice in December 2021, Avance Care Midtown.

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Access the Show Transcript Here


[0:02] Before we get into today’s interview, I’ve got a very important message for those of you about to enter the residency match in the spring of 2024. MD Coaches is excited to be offering, highlighting your unique value. This is a special four-week group coaching experience specifically designed to help you identify and present your best self during match interviews. All participants Students receive one individual coaching session and four group coaching sessions.
The cohort begins on Sunday, October 10 at 7 p.m. Eastern. Cost is $475.
There is a special discount for American Society of Physician Members.
So get more details and register on the web at
There are times in our lives that change the way we see the world.
Navigating these challenges can take insight, trusted confidants, or even a coach.
Let’s explore those moments.
In this companion podcast to Rx for Success, we will discover ways to learn and write our own success stories together.
I’m Dr. Dale Waxman, a physician coach with MD Coaches, And this is Life-Changing Moments.

[1:26] Music.
Dr. Rhett Brown: A Diverse Family Physician

[1:32] Our guest today is Dr. Rhett Brown. Dr. Brown is a family physician in practice in Charlotte, North Carolina.

[1:39] There he serves a diverse population of patients from birth through the end of life with a focus on care for members of the LGBTQ plus community. Among many leadership positions, he has held in over 30 years in practice.
He served as president of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians in 2016.
Dr. Brown has received many awards and recognitions in his career.
Most notably, he was named one of the top 100 physicians in North Carolina in 2021 and 2022, and was the inaugural recipient of the Legacy Award from Charlotte Pride.
Dr. Brown’s path into medicine story is chronicled well in the Rx for Success podcast, number 158 and 159.
It was such an incredible story that we had to break it up over two podcasts and it was very compelling.
And so, I highly encourage you to listen to both of those episodes because his story is quite inspiring.
Now, I am privileged to know Rhett as a previous professional partner, a colleague, and a good friend.
Together for several years. And we also worked out together virtually during the pandemic.
So, Rhett, I’m really, really excited to have you join me on Life-Changing Moments.

[3:05] Dale, thank you. It’s always such a pleasure to spend time with you.
It always is. And we’ve never done it quite this way, so this will be new for us. Yes.
Coming Out and Acceptance in the Medical Field

[3:14] So what I’d like to do is, this podcast is about branch points or inflection points in people’s lives. And there’s a lot of them. We all have a lot of them. You have a lot of them.
Also, different practice changes and geographic changes. And then also, The one that I keyed in on in the podcast was you grew up in the Charlotte area and, went to school in the Carolina area. And you recounted very well in the Rx for Success podcast about your sexual orientation and then your emergence and your openness about that, which wasn’t necessarily true when you’re in the Charlotte area, but you had this opportunity to come back to Charlotte to be in practice and a co-faculty member with me actually. And you.

[4:07] Said in the podcast that you decided if you’re coming back here, you’re going to be very, very upfront about who you are. And I’m just thinking that that must have taken a lot to get to that place. It did. And it was a very nice awakening of self-acceptance. And that self-acceptance is an ongoing journey. I can’t always say I’m there. It’s something I continue to practice. And I briefly recant what I shared earlier, having grown in Charlotte, opened a first practice in Charlotte in the town of Matthews in 1992. And at that time, there was a big AIDS epidemic, and there were still a lot of people thinking that if you’re gay, it was wrong, it was a crime. There was a lot of prejudice still about it. And so, Even though I’m opening a practice with a wonderful partner, borrowing money and hiring people, I’m having to lead a double live. Hide that.
I’m a family physician. I want to see patients and it’s not about me when I’m taking care of people.
And I was very worried that if people knew they wouldn’t bring their children, they wouldn’t want to come see me, that they would be judgmental. And I worried about my staff knowing because if I had to fire someone or there’s a bad employee, they would have the.

[5:24] Potential to hurt me by sharing that information. So for many years, I am coming to work and hiding who I am and other people that are in my life and people talking about what they’re doing on on the weekends, and I’m not joining in on those conversations, or I’m changing pronouns, I’m changing names, I’m making stories up and trying to keep all of that.
What did, how did I share this story? What did I change here?
How do I keep that memory going so I don’t trip myself up sometime in the future?
So it was a lot of work to do it, and sometimes it’s successful, and other people have said, hey, we knew what you were doing, but we felt like you did it for a reason that you needed to do it, and they were still loving and accepting of me during that time.
So, 92, 93, 94, it’s how I’m living my life.

[6:11] Around 1997, a very close friend of mine, my best friend from college who had gone to med school, done an OBGYN residency in Texas, but he’d always wanted to live in Charlotte.
He’d gone to elementary school in Charlotte. It was his dream to come back.
He went to Davidson, wanted to come back.
He got hired by an OB group in Monroe, which is a little town outside of Charlotte.
And within the first 90 days of getting hired, he gets called in to the medical director’s office and the medical director says, well, doc, we’ve gotten a rumor that you have a male roommate and that it may be more than just roommates.
Is there something you wanna share? My friend said, yes, I’m gay and this is my life partner and we moved from Texas together. And the medical director promptly said, we are a Christian-based medical group, you’re fired.
Your lifestyle is not accepted, you’re fired. And if you try and sue us, we will make sure you don’t get another job in North Carolina.

[7:10] So he ended up having to leave and move to Atlanta and practice and about four weeks later, another good friend of mine who was a dentist, same thing, he got called in, he was a dental associate, got called in by the owner of the dental practice, heard that you might be gay. Yes, you’re fired.
And in the nineties before, this was not a protected class. There’s nothing you could do.
You had the right to be fired for being gay. It was not protected.
And I was like and at that time I was working for a large multi-specialty group and I said, it’s all sort of worried about what would happen to me. It’s like, I love what I’m doing.

[7:47] Am I at risk? But I knew the medical director and the administrator of this large multi-specialty group pretty well. And I called Dr. Ray Fernandez up and I said, Ray, this has happened. I’m worried.
Can I get something put in my contract and Ray said?
Rhett I need I owe you an apology and I need to apologize to you right now Okay, you should have never had to bring this to me. I should have brought it to you, this will be done at the next board of directors meeting and.

[8:18] It was like Wow the power of asking and being seen made a change There were other gay employees at the Nall Clinic who felt scared to be themselves at the office. I, in my position of being, because I was actually on the board at that time, I was a leader in the Nall Clinic. I needed to understand that I needed to be seen because being seen can make a difference for other people. So I had that privilege and that responsibility. But I was still hiding it from my patients. I was still not sharing or being open and still being quiet around my patients. And being a raised Southern Baptist in the South, I still I had my own internalized homophobia.
I still had shame. For me to openly say I am gay get stuck in the back of my throat.

[9:08] And it was very awkward. Fast forward a few years, 1999, the Nall Clinic, thanks to HMO World, goes bankrupt.
I need to find a new job, and I had the opportunity at that time.
Ray Fernandez, the guy that had done so much for me, was now medical director of a large group in Atlanta, and called and said, ”Hey, would you come down here and start a new clinic with me?” I was like, ”God.” I’d been wanting to spend some time outside of Charlotte anyway, had grown up here.
Rave had been such a great mentor and a supporter. It’s like what a wonderful opportunity to go do this, So I jumped at the opportunity and we moved to Atlanta what I didn’t count on is a different environment, Atlanta was so much further along in gay acceptance than Charlotte was at that time.

[9:56] Living in the Atlanta market for the two years. I got to live there I was able to finally let go of my internalized gay shame and and live more openly and be able to just say this is who I am because I had spent my professional time in Charlotte if there was a work event or some kind of big charity thing, not being able to take my partner with me, having to find someone else as a date to go with me to those events because I didn’t feel I could take Mark, my partner at that time, with me.
All that went away in Atlanta, I could just be me and just live in that change. So when the opportunity came to join faculty back in Charlotte, there were a lot of amazing positives to get to work with these group of people, but I also had the fears, I’m not going to go back and live the way I lived in Charlotte. If I’m going back, I’m going back openly and trying to be as much my authentic self as possible and so that’s how I interviewed and that’s what I did when I came in to request it and it’s part of my contracting.
Having the experience of having two people fired for being gay in North Carolina, I insisted that that be included in my employment contract.
And I was lucky enough that the CEO at that time agreed to do so.
Introduction to Rx for Success and MD Coaches

[11:19] Hi, I’m Rhonda Crowe, founder and CEO for MD Coaches. Here on Rx for Success, we interview a lot of great medical professionals on how they grew their careers, how they overcame challenges, and how they handle day-to-day work. I really hope you’re getting a lot of great information. But if you’re looking for an answer to a specific problem, management or administration challenge, or if you’re feeling just a bit burnt out, like maybe you chose the wrong career, well then there’s a faster way to get the help you need. No, it’s not counseling. It’s coaching.
RX for Success is produced by MD Coaches, a team of physicians who have been where you are. I know you’re used to going it alone, but you don’t have to. Get, the support you need today. Visit us at to schedule your complimentary consultation.
Again that’s because you’re not in this alone.
Introducing Physician Outlook, a magazine for physicians’ interests.

[12:21] We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment, but right now I want to tell you a little bit about Physician Outlook. If you haven’t discovered this remarkable magazine, please do so very soon. It was created by physicians for physicians to showcase the intersection between clinical and non-clinical interests. Whether it’s writing, painting, cooking, politics, and dozens of other topics, Physician Outlook gives a physician perspective.
It’s available online and in print, it’s really unique among physician lifestyle magazines, and like the Prescription for Success podcast, Physician Outlook amplifies the voice of any physician who has something to say.
It also engages patients who still believe in physician-led, team-based care.
And Prescription for Success listeners can get three months free when you enter our promo code RX for success and select the monthly option at checkout.
That’s a really great deal on this stunning publication.

[13:25] And now let’s get back to today’s interview. Just to kind of a recap here and just so that I can make sure I understand.
So in Charlotte, you did have when you were at the Nall Clinic, there was an employment protection for you. you were assertive to ask for this because of the fear.
And at the same time, while that was there, not a whole lot else changed.
You were still pretty much contained, it’s just because socioculturally, it was still not an open and progressed environment in the Charlotte area.
No, more of my employee, the staff knew, but we still kept it very quiet, trying to hide it from patients.
Right. So you’re still not able to be fully yourself and still having to put energy into who might be in scene with out in public and the kind of things I know you recounted on the earlier podcast as well.
And just the mental energy, as you just said, that you have to be so in tune with to lead this double life, if you will, to make sure that you’re consistent with the stories, that you’re having to share. And then you go to Atlanta, which was much more accepting, it was an easier place for you to feel more yourself. And because of that, that led to.

[14:50] I’m not willing to let that go wherever I go next. And so I’m going to be very upfront.
Finding comfort and support in trusted mentors and colleagues.

[14:56] So, let me ask you, you’re still in Atlanta before contemplating coming back to Charlotte, and you made that decision very intentionally before you got here in Charlotte.
What were some pieces that assisted you with that in addition to just having experience as much more comfortable, open environment for yourself?
What went into your decision-making about how you’re going to approach this in coming back to Charlotte and interviewing for a job?
Well, one was great comfort and knowledge in who was the, I guess, Mary’s job, and it was residency director, Dr. Mary Hall, who had been one of my faculty teachers when I was a resident.
At a time, at another inflection point in my time during residency, she had been a trusted mentor to Cher.
She was like the second adult I ever told that I was gay to, and she had been incredibly affirming and supportive.
And her husband and I had been in practice together for nine years, so I had this comfort level that I knew, at least.
This person who was in a leadership position knew me, was affirming and accepting of me.
That gave me confidence that if she liked these people that she was working with and Mary said it was safe for me to come, then it was safe for me to come.

[16:20] Mary would not have encouraged me to apply and pursue this position if it had been not a safe place for me to be.
Was there anything back in Atlanta while you’re living in Atlanta that was assistive to you in.

[16:36] Making sure you’re able to sustain who you were as you made that transition back here?
Building connections with other professionals in the LGBTQ+ community.

[16:42] Anybody that was helpful or people you were in conversation with?
Richard Duncan I don’t really think I had a conversation, but one of the things interesting that I have not really shared is in the late 90s I formed the Charlotte Gay Medical Dental Association because there was a lot of gay doctors and dentists who were all living closeted lives, and I felt it would be important if we knew each other we could at least refer patients that we knew would be a safe place to go. So we would meet at restaurants or people’s houses could could not really advertise what this group was and kept it very confidential.
But when I got to Atlanta, there was also a version of that that was much bigger.
And so I had met a lot of other professional gay doctors and had a couple of having them how they are living their lives and that it had just let the quit hiding, quit being ashamed, quit saying no to things and just observing the freedom that they were having.
I was like, I’m not willing to give this up Mm-hmm.
As I come back. Yeah. and.

[17:48] So, let’s fast-forward, so I would imagine, you know, you’re feeling like you’re wholly, wholly, W-H-O-L-L-Y yourself in Atlanta, finally, in your life.
Trepidation and challenges of returning to a previous practice.

[18:03] There must have been some trepidation in coming back, even though professionally it was safe, as you said, Mary Hall said, it’s safe for you to be here.
There’s still some trepidation. You had been in practice here.
Is there a little bit of a different rep coming back a little bit different?
One of the things that was a little bit different is this was a a residency population So it wasn’t as it wasn’t as important for me to build my own practice. You know, I was only be a part-time So the fear of losing a whole practice if this got out I didn’t have to support everybody else’s salary So that took some of the pressure off of not being a business owner owner doing this.
But I don’t know if you were aware at the time, about three weeks after I joined and started working as faculty, I got a call from HR that there had been a complaint.

[18:56] About me from one of the nurses in the clinic, that she didn’t think it was appropriate for me to share what I had done on the weekend with my partner, and that we had just gone to a movie or gone to dinner or something.
And that as a Christian, shouldn’t have to hear about an alternative lifestyle. So the HR called me and said, we asked her if she ever talks about her children or her family, her grandchildren at work, and she said she did. And they said, Ben, he’s not doing anything different.
And the HR department, we support him totally.
So he’s not saying anything of a sexual nature, he’s not talking about anything indecent.

[19:33] He’s just sharing his life and what he did over the weekend. But that was three weeks after starting, so I knew there was talk there. And sometimes when I walk in to go see patients in the clinic or as medical director, so I was working with the whole staff, it was just swallowing and putting on like an actor, putting on the role of the medical director and they’re not going to know how I really feel. I’m going to lead this group and I’m going to win them over and just tackling it that way. So, meaning I am going to be the best medical director, best family doc and that I can be and I’ll get respect that way? Is that a way to think about it? Respect that way and share who I am as openly as I can. I’m not going to be act ashamed of who I am at this clinic. Yeah, so how easy or difficult was that for you? Day-to-day, it would vary. One of the things I wish HR Had never done or maybe it was good because I wasn’t now suspicious of every staff member I knew exactly who had made the complaint. Mm-hmm, and it was someone that I had to work with until whenever I was working with that person or, Her best friends. I would be a little on edge and I would feel some anxiety.

[20:58] And I would just say I still got to be me I still got to just and you know Just being gay is I don’t care who I am. Somebody’s not gonna like me for something about myself Right people will and they may dislike me not because I’m gay because maybe I was short or, Didn’t listen or do something else. So I couldn’t assume that Everything was about just that one asset factor of my of my personality So I was making sure I was working on all the factors of my personality. Yeah be a good leader I really, what I’m hearing is just sort of this mantra that you inculcated was, I just got to be me.
Embracing authenticity and self-acceptance in professional life.

[21:36] Whenever there’s this moment of challenge, it’s I just got to be me. I’m going to be me.
I’m going to be fully me and fully, fully who, holy, W-H-O-L-L-Y, holy myself here.
Holy myself and present and just sort of, and there’d be, you know, I’d go home and And there’d be times where I would, you know, you wax and wane where you feel good about yourself and others.
And I’m very good about being self-judgmental and saying, you know, what I didn’t do right or I should have done this wrong, I shouldn’t have done that wrong.
And then really practicing getting that word, that word should out of my life, because should is shame.
If I’m shitting myself, I’m giving myself shame.
I don’t need to give myself shame. I can learn.

[22:23] And I can choose to do things differently, but I need to get rid of that shame and practice self-compassion. Because I spent years saying things to myself that I would have never said to a friend or to somebody else. And it’s learning to give those words of loving kindness back to myself. Yeah. And what listeners to this podcast don’t know, because they don’t know you as well as I know you and we got to work together is… Of course, I didn’t know your internal dialogue at that time or what you were going through over the years. Well, first of all, we were all excited to have you. But I know that when you left and the reasons for you leaving were very well documented in the RX for Success, which had to do with switches of CEOs and their own views of whether we should not discriminate against people with different sexual orientations. So it wasn’t about us, it was about that. But what people need to know is you were very highly respected.
Dr. Brown’s departure and the impact on patients

[23:25] Not only when you came in, but even more so by the time that you left, tons of patients who loved you and missed you. And I know that because after you left, they were crying, there, why did Dr. Brown leave? Because of when I would see them. So, you know, I think there’s something about for all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation or our difference, when we embrace that, we fully embrace ourselves, the impact that has on those around us as well.
Dr. Kahne Williams I think so. I think we know when someone’s being authentic. Dr. Keith Williams Right. Well, Rhett, let me just ask, I mean, this has been a great conversation. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about or things that are coming up for you that you wish to impart to listeners, especially people who are considering a significant shift or pivot in their life, where they may be confronting something. It doesn’t have to be sexual orientation. It could be some other piece that they’re not comfortable sharing. But in order to be authentic, they may need to be more intentional or assertive about something. Is there anything else, any lessons learned along the way that you’d like to impart?

[24:39] It can be hard. It can be challenging. And it’s not always going to be what you view as wins at the moment. And it may not go exactly your way that you wish it would go.
But if you keep being true to yourself and your authentic self, there’s some things that I went for leadership opportunities that I didn’t get or ask for changes in organizations that I, didn’t get. And they were painful at the time. But as I’ll say, it’s like, you know, the Garth Brooks. Thank God for unanswered prayers.
Because sometimes I think of the road would happen if I had been gotten that I would have missed out on this opportunity. That was even better.
That was even a better fit that came down the road. So it’s being brave enough to ask, but also realizing that you’re not always going to get a yes.

[25:32] And that might actually be the best answer. Nice. Well, Rhett, that’s awesome. And it’s a great place for us to wrap this up.
It’s a great sort of message to live by. It’s a little bit like on the other side of crisis is opportunity. It’s kind of in that sort of category.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, Rhett, once again, thank you so much for coming back and being on the MD Coaches family of podcasts. I really, really appreciate this opportunity to talk with you about this, and I look forward to our future get-togethers as well.
Absolutely, Dale. It’s always an honor and a pleasure, so thank you.
Rhett Brown’s Story: Breaking Through Societal Pressures

[26:16] I really appreciated having this conversation with my colleague and friend, Rhett Brown.
Here is my reflection on our conversation. Rhett’s story illustrates the inner torment and outward inauthenticity that occurs when an individual has a characteristic that is not part of the dominant culture. From just a human perspective, Rhett’s experience invites us all to wonder who else as a culture are we holding back from being wholly themselves? And in holding them back from expressing themselves authentically, what contributions to society that they wish to make are we missing out on? Fortunate for us, Rhett took a risk and broke through societal pressures by making a decision to be fully himself in all parts of his life, professional and personal.
This resulted not just in his own well-being, but it also liberated others to live more authentically themselves. So, two takeaways. Number one, we all need to reflect on who we as a culture may be holding back and how we might see them as whole individuals and the contributions they make to society. And number two, we can all borrow Rhett’s adage that, no matter what the circumstances.
Embracing Authenticity: Living a Whole and Authentic Life

[27:34] We just have to be ourselves. We just fully have to embrace ourselves.
This can take courage and energy, but it is worth it to live a life that is whole and authentic.
Well, that’s it for this episode of Life-Changing Moments.

[27:49] If you find yourself struggling with not living your life wholly and authentically, coaching can help you find a better alignment between your inner and outer self.
Not sure if coaching’s for you? We offer a complimentary session for that very reason.
So find yourself going to today and book that complimentary session, and we’ll look forward to partnering with you to improve your life.

[28:15] As always, thank you for listening, and be well.
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