Med School Revises Curriculum to Include LGBTQ Health Needs

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COLUMBIA - The MU School of Medicine is placing a new focus on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) health needs. The school plans to make healthcare for the LGBTQ community an important part of its curriculum. New course materials aim to have students look at culturally-effective care and learn how to interact with diverse populations.

Third-year medical student John Cummins is finding ways to relieve his stress as he prepares for his medical board exams in July. He said he has enough on his plate already, but still finds a way to involve himself with the school's attempt to improve its curriculum in LGBTQ concerns.

Cummins said he is part of the LGBTQ community and that a past incident at the doctor's office made him really see his minority group as degraded and disrespected by physicians. 

"I had bad experience sometimes," says Cummins. "Assumptions were made, test were not ordered, some procedures were ignored completely and that's what made me get involved."

Cummins said his own experiences made him get involved with healthcare. His main goal is to close the seperation between LGBTQ health and physicians. He started a student organization called MizzouMed Pride his second year at the university. The groups' mission statement says it "supports medical students, faculty, and staff interested in improving their understanding of issues facing LGBTQ patients, health care providers and students."

"Our main priority is education," said Cummins. "There is big gap when it comes to LGBTQ health." 

The medical school has been planning to close that gap for years and now officials are ready to take action. Cummins said medical students and medical professionals first need to address issues that are otherwise ignored. He said the LGBTQ community is an "unmapped territory for a lot of physicians."  

The medical school is currently in the process of changing its curriculum. Officials want to make diversity and inclusion two of their main goals. Last year, professors implemented a first-year orientation that covers diversity and sexual identity. Educators aim to expand this curriculum throughout all four years of undergraduate courses in hope that students will recognize LGBTQ health issues and end prejudice.

"We are hoping the lessons we teach will be embedded through the education as opposed to isolated in one lecture," said Debra Howenstine, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at the MU School of Medicine. Read more here about Howenstine.

"We are not just teaching them about openness but we are teaching them how to explore their own biasses," said Cummins. 

Howenstine said it's not just the students who need to learn how to care for LGBTQ patients. The faculty has also taken time out to recognize the importance of these issues. They are in the process of finding a way to teach medical students effectively as well as learn from other schools who have already began this process.

Supporters of the new curriculum said, from childhood to adulthood, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people find themselves not knowing how severe their health needs are. Both Cummins and Howenstine said that it is because members of the community may be scared to talk to physicians for fear of being judged. Those people might feel uncomfortable when interacting with a doctors, as they might not know how to discuss their sexual identity. 

The medical school cited a March 2011 Institute of Medicine report that lists a variety of LGBTQ-specific medical concerns, including:

  • LGB youth are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts as well as depression. Small studies suggest the same may be true for transgender youth.
  • Rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, and substance use may be higher among LGB than heterosexual youth. Almost no research has examined substance use among transgender youth.
  • Lesbians and bisexual women may use preventive health services less frequently than heterosexual women.
  • Lesbians and bisexual women may be at greater risk of obesity and have higher rates of breast cancer than heterosexual women.
  • HIV/AIDS impacts not only younger but also older LGBT individuals. However, few HIV prevention programs target older adults, a cohort that also has been deeply affected by the losses inflicted by AIDS.
  • LGBT elders are less likely to have children than heterosexual elders and are less likely to receive care from adult children.

A study from Stanford University says as a whole, medical schools do not do a good job identifying with the LGBTQ community. Universities have increasingly recognized the health needs of LGBTQ members as a big concern and an important skill to have for students entering the field. 

To view more health disparities in the LGTBQ community and read articles discussing LGBTQ health concerns visit these websites: