Leland Perzanowski, RN
The teen years are a time of rich transformation and growth. It is a time when individuals begin to identify who they are and take next steps into adulthood. All young people can struggle to find support and guidance—this point in life can be even more challenging when biological family and more traditional support systems don’t have the resources or are not an option. It can also be difficult when youth are not accepted or do not understand the experiences they’ve had based on their race, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Leland Perzanowski (them/them) has focused their professional career working to support young people during this time of development.
Leland is currently working as the Nurse Manager at Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Center’s Y-HEP Adolescent and Young Adult Health Center, which provides inclusive and accessible health care for youth ages 13-24. Leland advocates for young patients at Y-HEP by ensuring that the health care system does not discriminate or fail to provide access to sorely needed resources that all people deserve. At Y-HEP, Leland has initiated and built gender-affirming services into the clinic’s core health care services and culture. When Leland began working at Y-HEP, the center did not yet offer gender-affirming services, such as social, medical, or legal transition support. Today, Y-HEP serves more than 140 transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) youth within their community health center. The center provides TGNC youth support in updating legal documents, starting youth on Hormone Replacement Therapy, teaching youth how to self-administer hormone injections, fighting for insurance coverage of gender-affirming surgeries, and strives always to be a place where TGNC youth feel respected and affirmed.
The nurses at Philadelphia FIGHT clinics play many roles and are often the first point of triage and health education, and they manage many aspects of patient care beyond the physical examination, diagnosis, and treatment. “Unfortunately, racism, transphobia, sexism, ableism, and classism are strategically used to grant or deny healthcare access and community health in many ways,” Leland noted. Because of this, they work with colleagues to ensure thoughtful, responsive, and appropriate care is made available to all. As a result, patients are very grateful for help and relieved to find a health center that focuses on their needs and addresses all aspects of their care.
Leland’s own personal experience led them to focus much of their professional concentration on community health and young adults. Leland identifies as a non-binary queer person. They come from a big family (with seven siblings) and had a good childhood. Yet as a teenager, they found themselves at a loss for making sense of their feelings and gender/sexual orientation. Their own adolescent experience was complicated by the absence of validating adults or care systems, and there was a lack of support in school or at local public health clinics that could provide the guidance needed. “I really navigated a lot of mental distress on my own and wasn’t finding the guidance or support that I needed. Having gone through this is what drew me to working with young adults,” they shared. Leland wanted to provide the help and resources that could have helped them during their own adolescent years and decided to switch their undergraduate focus from early childhood education to therapeutic recreation focused on relational work with young people. Leland easily connected to queer and transgender youth and was able to support those navigating hardships with family and identity. Through these relationships, Leland began their own process of healing and knew they wanted to continue to be a part of a network of support for young people who otherwise found themselves without the systems they deserved and needed. They said,
“I am in awe of what youth live through at such young ages, only to persevere into incredibly insightful, bright, and driven young adults. Young people take their time in trusting me, and ultimately, allow me to join alongside their journey. I hope our connection can improve their sense of self, their worth, and the ways they learn to care for themselves and those closest in their community.”
It wasn’t until Leland started providing street outreach services to un-housed adolescence and young adults in San Francisco that they were inspired to explore a career in health care. As part of their advocacy work, Leland accompanied many young adults to physical exams required by the housing programs and saw firsthand how many were treated rudely, with brief and routine interactions that didn’t take into account the individual’s needs and which lacked any counseling or education. “In these health care settings, I realized that youth deserved a health care experience that was youth-centered, based in harm reduction, low barrier access, and trauma informed. I wanted to work toward creating a welcoming and affirming health care space for young people. One in which they could show up as they were, and be met with kindness and compassion,” said Leland. Because nurses are a critical component of health care and have the perspective to see where the health system may be failing or creating an unfavorable condition for a patient’s experience, Leland decided to focus on this professional route.
Leland enrolled in Penn Nursing’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing and appreciated the level of community work Penn values and the skilled nursing faculty. Especially impactful for Leland was Penn’s community health coursework and the time they spent in rotation with elementary school nurses within the School District of Philadelphia. Leland admired and learned a lot from Penn Nursing faculty member Dr. Bridgette Brawner and shared, “Her focus on underserved adolescent and young adult’s sexual and reproductive health felt instrumental to my own development of intervention, counseling, and education strategies with youth at Y-HEP.” Leland plans to continue to practice as a Registered Nurse for a few more years but is considering the Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner program to further their health care focus with adolescent and young adults. Their long-term goal is to work within a wellness program in a public school and provide health care services to young people within the public school system. Leland says, “My hope is that I can continue to connect with youth in ways that meet their needs within the ever-changing ways that young adulthood evolves.”
Random Fact: Leland’s moon is in Aquarius and they love nothing more than bodies of water. Their first love was Lake Michigan and then the Pacific Ocean.