Recognizing Superstars: Dr. Rachel Inker
"Rachel Inker’s background has prepared her for working with people who struggle to access appropriate health care. An English major who graduated from Harvard in 1986, she wanted to travel, work, and explore the world, so she bought an around-the-world air ticket and spent eight months traveling in Europe and Asia, often alone. She spent five months in India, two of them working as a volunteer with an English doctor, whom she describes as “extraordinary,” in the street clinic he ran for Bangladeshi refugees. She also worked as a volunteer at a hospice run by Mother Theresa.
“I’d always thought about being a doctor, but this was the first time I’d met people for whom helping to relieve suffering was a calling, and it made a tremendous impression on me,” she says.
She went on to spend several years working in therapeutic outdoor and residential programs in New England and in several western states. “Working with struggling teenagers in the wilderness remains some of the best work I’ve done,” Inker recalls. “There is nothing more therapeutic than being outdoors, working as a team, and having to meet whatever challenges present themselves.” She hopes to do this kind of work again.
At the age of 30, Inker entered medical school in her home state and graduated in 1998 from the University of Massachusetts in Worcester. During her first year there, in 1994, she met Chris Brown, an architect and furniture maker, through a classmate who was dating his brother. They married when she graduated and moved to Burlington, Vermont, where she started her family practice residency at UVM. They have three children, twin 16-year-old girls and a 12-year-old son.
“Medical school and then residency was an incredible and demanding period of learning, challenge and growth,” Inker recalls. “Family medicine allowed me to provide care for people of all ages and also to use my experiences working in mental health.”
“I’ve always been moved and fascinated by people’s unique stories and experiences,” she adds. “From the time I was a kid, I enjoyed casual ‘interviews’ and began to appreciate how people lived very different lives than my own,” says the daughter of a lawyer and a social worker.
Board-certified in family medicine, Inker has been a family physician at the Community Health Centers of Burlington since 2001. She continues to be a per diem provider at UVM’s Urgent Care clinic and is a clinical instructor at UVM medical school.
Inker, a family practice physician, first learned about gender transition in 2004 working at the Community Health Centers of Burlington as a family practice physician. There she heard a presentation on trans men and women by a transgender educator. After the talk, the presenter invited anyone interested in transgender health care to be in touch since no one was providing care locally. Inker had no formal training in caring for transgender patients so she began researching existing protocols and networking with other providers locally and across the US. Many of these providers had begun serving transgender patients because of a growing grassroots movement that had taken hold in community health centers in large cities. Today, Dr. Inker is the lead medical provider at the Transgender Clinic affiliated with the Community Health Center of Burlington."