Penn Nursing graduates are committed to innovation, and KC Benchimol is at the forefront of advocating for change in the postpartum unit. KC and University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) co-worker Monika Wasik C’12, Nu’15, are the driving forces behind making birth certificates and Social Security application forms gender neutral—swapping “Mother” and “Father” for “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”

This simple change makes it easier for people with diverse family structure to participate in the postpartum experience. Perhaps more importantly, the change symbolizes acceptance of LGBTQ+ parents.

“Whether it was a trans man that had a baby, a lesbian couple, or parents having a baby via a surrogate,” KC said, “the documents we had in the unit were inadequate to describe the families that were using them.”

KC and Monika presented on this project in June 2018 at the Association of Women’s Health and Obstetric and Neonatal Nursing conference. “Shining a light on this issue—and publicizing our project—is important. While the plan is to implement the new forms across the entire University of Pennsylvania Hospital system, ideally gender neutral birth certificates and social security application forms will be implemented on a national level.”

Innovating through activism is something KC learned as a nurse. “There is not a better moment to learn about the importance of activism than when you are advocating for your patient. We are the ones that push for pain management, help soothe a baby at 4 am when the parents need sleep, help a delivered parent change her pads in the bathroom, and advocate for shelter placement in the setting of interpersonal violence. We are trusted in the most vulnerable situations, so it only makes sense that we should be advocating in a more formal and even political arena.”

KC added,

“One of the reasons why I feel so at home in the Women’s Health world, especially at Penn Nursing, is because advocacy and activism is literally part of the curriculum. Women’s Health is an area where people who are not medical care providers feel like they have a better grasp on how to treat our patients than the trained professionals and patients themselves do; we have to constantly speak up for the rights of our patients—and ourselves. Being a postpartum nurse helped me find that active voice, because I am in the position where if I don’t speak up for my patient, nobody else will.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a genderqueer person, KC is also committed to helping to improve access and reduce the stigma of being a gender minority within the healthcare system. “The idea of a gender binary and gendered language is such a big part of the tradition of Women’s Health, so it has been a very interesting experience participating in the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner’s Program and not identifying as a woman. Because the Penn program has such a history of advocating for women, they have been particularly open to learning about and adapting to include other gender minorities.”

While KC did not always envision themselves as a nurse (they considered a creative writing degree), their mother is a nurse—and as the second oldest cousin of 24, KC grew up in Coxsackie, New York with babies instead of dolls and a huge respect for mothers. Nursing, particularly in the area of women’s health, made sense (KC switched from the Midwifery program to the WHNP program after discovering a love of teaching and health management).

However, an experience while KC was a new-to-practice RN changed the way they thought about nursing and paved the way for KC’s activism-informed nursing attitude. KC’s best friend and roommate experienced a health crisis—a virus that attacked KC’s friend’s heart and put her into heart failure. KC spent two weeks with her friend in the Cardiac ICU, collecting crumbs of information from staff about her prognosis and translating the medical jargon into terms that friends and family could understand. Sadly, KC’s friend passed away, but what has stuck with them is that “one nurse brought us all pitchers of ice water, the nightshift nurse played Anastasia’s favorite music, and the ECG technician washed and braided her hair. None of the things I remember from the hospital as positive and important were ‘nursing’ skills. They were the little things that you do for people when you care about their comfort and the physical ways in which you try to ease their pain. I have brought this experience into my nursing practice and I truly believe it helped me understand how powerful nurses are and how much of nursing care is in the details.”

Activism, patient advocacy, and a career that focuses on family planning, sexual health, and LGBTQ+ aspect of “women’s” health is what KC’s future holds, as well as an advanced degree. “I feel like I’m not done learning yet,” KC said. “I’d also love to teach. While there are more lectures on LGBTQ+ and minority-specific healthcare in Penn’s Nursing program compared to many other programs, I want to push for a stronger focus.”

Random fact: KC has a dog named Leslie Knope.