Dr. Travis Cosban is a Dedman scholar alumnus from New Orleans by way of Katy, Texas. He graduated from UT Austin with a Plan II Honors degree in 2009 before becoming a part of the inaugural class at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine.
Cosban is an emergency medicine physician at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. He also works as a locum tenens doctor, traveling to underserved areas around West Texas, and as a clinical faculty member at his alma mater, the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. He is an executive member of the LGBTQ Pride Board in El Paso, where he focuses on aiding in HIV prevention and connecting the community to LGBT-friendly physicians and pharmacies. At UT, he remains actively involved in the DDS program as a mentor and serves as the chair of the alumni selection committee.
How has the DDS program influenced your life?
I remember when I went to college, I was in an unusual place in life. I knew I was gay and wanted to come out in college, but was unsure when would be the appropriate time to do so. At that time, Larry Carver was head of the program along with his aid Stacey Amorous. They became somewhat of a second set of parents to me. They somehow understood deeply who I was, and support never seemed like it was conditional. With the knowledge that I had mentors in place as well as financial security, I made the leap and came out over Christmas my freshman year. I was fortunate that my parents responded well and my life forged onward.
At that time, I did not have a personal relationship with the truly marvelous Nancy Dedman, but she and her family changed my life in ways I am not sure I will ever be able to adequately convey. They allowed me to be who I was and move past what had been a barrier in my life for nearly a decade. My announcement fazed no one at The University of Texas at Austin, and Dr. Carver would ask about my personal struggles and academic accomplishments just as he had before — with genuine interest. I gained confidence in who I was and the idea that I deserved academic success just as much as any other student.
The Dedman Distinguished Scholars program gave me the ability to not only grow in my academic success but also my personal well-being. The program did all this through the sense of family that it fosters. When you attend a university as large as UT, a small and close-knit family is the best gift any student can ever receive.
Can you describe your experience as a Dedman mentor?
I value my role as a mentor to both prospective and current students. I am not the world’s most traditional of doctors as an openly gay man with a heavy liberal arts and music background. I can be eccentric, as evident from my closet full of sequin jumpsuits and faux fur coats for my annual medical volunteer trip at Burning Man. But within all of this, I value education and humanitarianism. In living openly I believe that by allowing students to see our quirks, we also allow them to see themselves in us. You do not have to be rigid to be successful. You can be your authentic self and in doing so find the things that make you fulfilled. In doing this, I have found not only success, but more importantly happiness with my direction in life. I hope that those are the two things we can give to each of our program’s graduates by the time they finish at UT Austin.
How has your liberal arts education aided you?
While not uncommon, most liberal arts students do not choose to go to medical school and spend their time at work trying to shield themselves from blood. Still, I could not have asked for a better undergraduate education. When it came time to read massive amounts of material in medical school and process the information efficiently, I was thankful for all the reading I had done in college. When it came time to process and reflect on my first time seeing death first hand as a medical student, I was thankful for my philosophy classes and times spent reflecting in a small group on Nietzsche and Sartre. Liberal arts seemed to teach me to do more than write papers — through dynamic classes based in discussion, it taught me the value of seeing another’s perspective. I am thankful for this today as I interact with all walks of life in a high-tension setting.
What do you find most challenging about your work?
The most challenging aspect of work is never the knowledge attainment — it is the emotional challenge. After approximately eight years of graduate education and training, you know the information. But no one tells you how to tell a mother her son that she brought to America from Honduras for a better life just two weeks ago has been stabbed and left in a dumpster. No one tells you how to handle a patient threatening to embalm you for not giving them Vicodin. And no one tells you how to keep a poker face when you need to remove two dozen Skittles from an orifice they do not belong in. Still, you must manage and figure it out because there is no one else to turn to when you are the only doctor in the hospital. Work as an ER doctor is a constant reminder that you do not know everything and you never will.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My most recent endeavor has been to complete an art show of 15 pieces in 2018. I am about halfway done with the goal and have already had three of them snatched up by the El Paso Museum of Art for a collection of local artists. My current art reflects the most poignant or humorous patient encounters I have had during my medical career. It is an interpretation of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), which is United States legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information. Each patient portrait is significantly de-identified through abstracting their visual image while still retaining key portions of the pathology or narrative. These painting sessions are often accompanied by a trip to Marfa, Texas, where I reside in my small trailer in a quiet field between meals at some of the town’s wonderful local restaurants.