A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA) suggests that medical schools need to more thoroughly teach about the health issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Just eight percent of 176 medical schools interviewed taught all 16 health issues identified to practitioners as being critical to the health of LGBT individuals. These topics include sex reassignment surgery, inaccessibility of health care, and safer sex. Few schools spend more than five hours discussing these topics in the classroom, and one-third of schools did not discuss them at all.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, this lack of education contributes to the fear and discomfort many LGBT patients experience in relation to the medical world. Their 2010 survey found that 28 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people put off going to see a medical professional when they were sick or injured for fear of being discriminated against.
Moreover, certain serious illnesses are overrepresented but undertreated among the LGBT population. According to the AMA, “LGBT people have an increased risk of developing cancer and contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. . . . They also are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke, use drugs, be overweight, attempt suicide and engage in other risky behaviors than heterosexual counterparts.” As noted by the AMA, not only should health practitioners expand their fact-based knowledge of preventing, identifying, and treating these health issues, but for the conservatively estimated 8.8 million LGBT Americans, health offices must also reconsider how welcoming they are to such patients. “These results should serve as a call to action for the health profession to include LGBT health as part of the standard curriculum,” comments Dr. Desiray Bailey, president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association.
However, the AMA is hopeful that the high response rate among medical schools to their 2010 survey suggests that, despite poor scores, schools are interested in improving the breadth of education. With success in this inclusionary effort, LGBT individuals will be able to receive the comprehensive health care they deserve.
Rebecca Appel, “Medical Schools Neglecting Gay Health Needs, Study Says,” New York Times, 13 September 2011, accessed 12 October 2011, < http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/12/world/americas/12iht-educBriefs12.html>.
Pauline W. Chen, “Medical Schools Neglect Gay and Gender Issues,” 10 November 2011, accessed 17 November 2011, <http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/10/medical-schools-teach-little-about-gay-health-issues/>.
Christine Moyer, “LGBT Patients: Reluctant and Underserved,” American Medical News, 5 September 2011, accessed 12 October 2011, <http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2011/09/05/prsa0905.htm>.
Moyer, “LGBT Patients: Reluctant and Underserved.”
Chen, “Medical Schools Neglect Gay and Gender Issues.”