Medical schools are increasing education on LGBTQ health issues and pushing to recruit more LGBTQ medical students.
Patients often get better care when treated by Doctors more like them. People who identify as other than heterosexual can feel marginalized and will be less likely to seek medical care, contributing to health problems that include high rates of depression, suicidal behavior, alcohol and drug use and inadequate health screenings, LGBTQ advocates say.
Aliya Feroe is a third-year Harvard medical student and identifies as queer. She said, “LGBTQ Physicians deserve an equal standing in the medical community and LGBTQ patients deserve the same quality of care awarded to anyone else.”
The exact numbers of LGBTQ medical students and Doctors are unknown. In 2018, the American Medical Association added sexual orientation and gender identity as an option for members to include in demographic profiles the group compiles. Of the 15,000 Doctors and students who have volunteered that information so far, about 4% identify as LGBTQ.
In 2018, the Association of American Medical Colleges’ primary application used by U.S. schools began offering prospective students the option of specifying gender identity and preferred pronouns.
Harvard’s school-specific application now allows applicants to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Jessica Halem, the medical school’s LGBTQ outreach Director said, a response is not required, but the option “sends a message that you’re wanted.”
Halem also said, “We know that Doctors need to look like and be a part of the communities they serve. We have gay Muslim students. Lesbians from China. Students who are survivors of conversion therapy. They are now out and very proud gay people and they are healing those wounds.”
The American Medical Association vowed last November to push for a federal ban on gay conversion therapy.
There are major disparities faced by LGBTQ people when it comes to medicine and their health. In order to fix that it starts with making sure LGBTQ students feel welcome and included in medical schools, from recruitment through graduation. Medical schools can accomplish this if they look at it as a three-step process: diversity, inclusion, and advocacy.
One barrier to making sure LGBTQ students feel included is a lack of mentors, says Tiffany Delaney, Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the Robert Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. “During medical school, students often lack a breadth of LGBTQ Physician mentors who can help guide them around issues of professional development.”
A 2017-18 Association of American Medical Colleges report found that while most schools include some LGBTQ coursework, half reported three or fewer lectures, group discussions or other learning activities. And a study of medical residents published last March found a widespread lack of knowledge on LGBTQ health issues. Dr. Carl Streed, the lead author and an associate professor at Boston University’s medical school, is among advocates pushing for a standardized, mandatory LGBTQ curriculum to fill the gaps.
The bottom line, Delaney says, is “having a welcoming community that not only supports our LGBTQ medical students on their path to becoming caring and competent Physicians, but also reminds us that it is patients who are at the center of the practice of medicine and we must ensure inclusive and welcoming treatment for all.”