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Five Pillar Leader Award

Del Ray Zimmerman recognized as top leader for his commitment to LGBTQ community

“His selfless service to the community knows no bounds, and his ability to make projects come to fruition is unmatched.”

by August 28, 2019

Daily tasks you’d find in Del Ray Zimmerman’s job description as director of the Office for Diversity Affairs and LGBTQ Health include:

  • Connecting patients with specially trained LGBTQ providers;
  • Building and executing trainings to help providers better serve the LGBTQ community; and
  • Overseeing interns and volunteers.

Aside from his busy day-to-day responsibilities, Zimmerman has also taken on the following projects, none of which were required for his role:

  • Creating the annual Southern LGBTQ Health Symposium to educate providers across the region;
  • Working with Human Resources to maintain best practices for onboarding transgender employees whose chosen legal names may not match their birth names; and
  • Incorporating chaplaincy services into Vanderbilt’s Adolescent Trans Health Clinic.

According to his colleagues, Zimmerman has a track record of identifying needs, taking initiative and successfully implementing creative solutions to fill gaps for a community that often faces widespread bias and misunderstanding. For this, he was awarded the Five Pillar Leader Award at the Leadership Assembly on Aug. 14, recognizing his leadership in service, quality, employee engagement, growth and finance, and innovation.

“His selfless service to the community knows no bounds, and his ability to make projects come to fruition is unmatched,” reads one of Zimmerman’s five nomination letters.

Another adds, “To say we are better off because of Del Ray would be an understatement to his dedication to help others.”

Zimmerman became interested in making LGBTQ health a professional focus after noticing gaps in care for gender and sexual minorities.

“I realized there was a real lack of community, and I started to see things that were missing here in Nashville. At the same time, I was seeing young people coming out at an early age without the supports they needed,” said Zimmerman.

Since joining the program in 2016, Zimmerman has played an integral role in establishing Vanderbilt’s new adult and adolescent transgender clinics that added more extensive surgery options to VUMC’s roster, a project that took two years of planning before launching last year. The process included training roughly 300 bedside staff on how to effectively communicate with transgender patients, who require up to weeklong stays in the hospital following surgery.

“The truth is, these patients call because when they call me, they can be themselves. I allow them to be who they are, and that’s pretty compelling. I’m not just a person they’re calling to get information from,” said Zimmerman.

To maintain relationships with the community, Zimmerman volunteers at events such as the LGBTQ Youth Prom and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and he holds a board position with an organization that works with school administrators to create safer schools for LGBTQ students.

His familiar face offers a safe place to turn when people are in need.

“When a trans patient is facing discrimination at work, they call Del Ray. When a gay man moves to Nashville and has run out of HIV medication, he calls Del Ray. When a physician wants to find support for a gay man with advanced rectal cancer, they call Del Ray. And each of these patients has been served at Vanderbilt quickly and with dignity because of Del Ray,” stated a third nomination letter.

While his job is to connect patients to health care resources, many also call Zimmerman simply because he lends a compassionate ear. Some even call weekly to ask for program updates.

“The truth is, these patients call because when they call me, they can be themselves. I allow them to be who they are, and that’s pretty compelling. I’m not just a person they’re calling to get information from,” said Zimmerman.

“The opportunity to do this work is a real dream come true. I know I have aligned my passion with my work. While I’m honored to receive this award, what it really symbolizes to me is that I’m being recognized for the passion that I carry, and that means more to me than anything.”

To place a nomination for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award, visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year round. If a nomination is received after the cutoff for quarterly award selection, the nomination will be considered for the next quarter. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.

Five Pillar Leader Award, Del Ray Zimmerman, LGBTQ, LGBTQ Health, Office for Diversity Affairs