Many organizations are realizing that further education is needed to better serve the LGBT population, including specific medical school training. Accordingly, the Drexel University School of Public Health has recently begun offering a certificate in LGBT health, believed to be only the second such program in the nation.
The few studies done on the topic have shown that LGBT people tend to have different risk factors than their straight counterparts, especially regarding certain types of cancer. This alone should inspire doctors to make sure they get the full story regarding a patient’s private life, but just as important is the psychological factor.
LGBT people, especially those in less accepting areas, have higher rates of anxiety and depression; some may be reluctant to come out to their doctor unprompted, so it’s vital that care providers create an environment of trust.
In the program at Drexel University, one exercise has students taking a few minutes to write a list of what is most important to them, then pairing up to introduce themselves—but without talking about anything they just noted down. It’s just a small glimpse of how difficult and stressful it is to conceal what amounts to a considerable portion of one’s life, but it emphasizes why doctors need to consider not only what they ask, but how.
“Drexel’s Certificate for LGBT Health is designed for students with an interest in studying current health and wellness issues impacting LGBT populations,” professor at the university Ted Faigle told 429Magazine.
“These issues range from basic safety and mental health concerns of young people just coming to terms with being transgender, lesbian, gay or bisexual to the ongoing and emerging issues surrounding HIV/AIDS care, awareness and the effects of stigma.
“The program also provides practical experience in best methods for studying LGBT populations, collecting reliable data and asking sensitive research questions about sex, sexuality and gender in order to gain the most useful information about LGBT people, needs and identities.”
The course stresses how important language is, including not being overly dependent on labels. It’s important for healthcare providers to know their patient’s orientation, but that alone won’t tell the whole story.
A 2006 study in New York City showed that 9 percent of men who identified as straight had had sexual intercourse with another man in the previous year. It’s also vital to know if a patient uses protection during sexual activity, what type, and how often.
Patients are much more likely to be completely honest if they know they won’t be judged, but their healthcare providers have to ask the right questions, too.