May 03, 2014
By Kate Jaimet

Frankly speaking

Jake Mossop talks relationships and safe sex in his practice and on late-night TV

Jake Mossop
Teckles Photography Inc.Initiating frank discussions is an integral part of Mossop’s practice at Toronto’s Sherbourne Health Centre.

It might not be a traditional role for a nurse, but being a panellist on MTV’s 1 Girl 5 Gays was a way for Jake Mossop to reach out beyond his regular practice and deliver a message about safe sex to a wider audience.

The 28-year-old primary care nurse appeared regularly as part of a rotating panel of gay men on the late-night show, which freely discusses sex, often in exuberant detail. “When I was invited to be on it, I was a bit taken aback but then I realized it was an opportunity to speak about sexual health and safety,” says Mossop. “One of the younger panel members would say, ‘I had anal sex last night, and I didn’t even get the guy’s name,’ and I would say, ‘Did you use a condom?’”

Initiating frank discussions is an integral part of Mossop’s practice at Toronto’s Sherbourne Health Centre, which specializes in providing services for city newcomers, homeless and unsafely housed people, and members of the LGBT community in the inner city. “I think it’s important that we ask clients, ‘What do you do sexually? Are you exchanging fluids?’” says Mossop, who has been on the centre’s urban health team for the past 3½ years. The team includes two other primary care nurses and a nurse practitioner, along with physicians, social workers and lab technicians. Among Mossop’s clients are individuals who have serious mental health problems and those who have been involved in the corrections system.

His interest in nursing began when he was a third-year undergraduate at the University of British Columbia, studying biology and genetics. After a summer as a research assistant, he realized he didn’t want to spend his working life “staring into a microscope and wearing a starched lab coat.” He took advantage of UBC’s advanced placement program, which allowed him to complete a nursing degree in two years. As soon as he started interacting with patients during clinical placements, he knew he’d made the right decision.

After graduating, Mossop worked as a hospital nurse in internal medicine, first in Vancouver, then in Toronto. Volunteering for three weeks at a clinic in rural Kenya opened his eyes to the impact primary care nurses can have on a community, and he found the job at Sherbourne after he got back. “The marginalized and stigmatized populations we work with are among those who use and benefit from the system the most, and with the continuity of care we provide, we can clearly see the positive effects on their health. It’s really rewarding to help people who are so vulnerable.”

He admits that it’s a challenging work environment. “Sometimes people come in looking for narcotics or benzos, and when they don’t get what they want they can get verbally or physically aggressive. Our clinical rooms are set up so the client is never between us and the door, and we each wear a duress alarm that will bring help if we activate it. I’ve been threatened but never actually assaulted. I feel safe knowing there are security people and other staff nearby and protocols in place.”

Since joining the clinic, Mossop has led quality improvement initiatives, helped chair and steer accreditation subcommittees, and served as union steward — roles that have shown him the importance of strong leadership in improving care for patients and working conditions for nurses. He is now enrolled in a master of nursing administration program at the University of Toronto, and ultimately would like to become a manager in a large hospital, where he can lead and motivate others.

Although he never intended to enter show business, once he got into it he got the bug. Now a part-time interviewer and reporter for OutLook TV, a national LGBT newsmagazine show on Shaw cable, Mossop sees the benefits of presenting gay culture on mainstream television. “Shows like 1 Girl 5 Gays and OutLook TV feature gay men and other members of the LGBT community who have regular careers and professions, and who talk candidly about their orientation and their lives,” he says. “For people who may be struggling with the idea of coming out, hearing other gays talk on shows like these gives them a sense of connection. Maybe for someone in high school, it’s a chance to sit there for half an hour and see what life may be like for them later — to realize that being gay isn’t game over.”

As busy as he is with his master’s degree studies, Mossop wants to keep promoting health through appearances on TV. “I’m not an actor and I don’t have an agent,” he says. “But I would love to continue in show biz, coming at it from a nursing perspective.”

Follow Jake on Twitter: @TheJakeMossop

10 questions with Jake Mossop

What is one word you would use to describe yourself?

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?
I’d slow down

What is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn?
I’m fluent in French

“If I had more free time, I would...”
Volunteer more

Name one place in the world you’d most like to visit.
South America, particularly Brazil and Argentina

What is your biggest regret?
Not entering nursing school directly from high school

What was the last good book you read?
I’m halfway into my master’s degree — no time to read for pleasure

Who inspired you to become a nurse?
My grandma. I was her caregiver in her last few years

What was the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
Always pause and reread an e-mail before you send it

What is the best thing about your current job?
The autonomy. I have an office and my name on the door

Kate Jaimet is a freelance writer in Ottawa, Ont.
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