University of Wisconsin staff members helped create a new textbook designed to close gaps in knowledge about LGBTQ health.
Dr. James Lehman, a senior editor, and Dr. Elizabeth Petty helped edit the textbook. “The Equal Curriculum” covers LGBTQ friendly medical encounters, specialties like pediatrics and neurology, transgender health, HIV/AIDS, sexual health and global LGBTQ health.
Lehman spoke about why a textbook like “The Equal Curriculum” is necessary.
“Across the country, the amount of education in LGBTQ health at the graduate health science level is incredibly variable,” Lehman said. “When [medical schools] did teach about LGBTQ health it was often as its own day or singular activity, as opposed to whenever it would make sense.”
Because of this, Lehman said across the county students led grassroots efforts to add to LGBTQ health curriculum at their universities. While this led to change at individual institutions, Lehman said universities were having to come up with their own curriculum and decide what should be included — this could be a lot of pressure for schools and made teachings variable.
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Lehman said the textbook content is relevant to other courses as well — many chapters have applications in sociology, social psychology and nursing.
Diversity Officer for the School of Nursing Mel Freitag spoke about reasons why gaps still exist for LGBTQ health curriculum.
“I think the gap in health care [comes from] a color blindness,” Freitag said. “The helping professional fields feel like they already treat all their patients the same. So, regardless of the patients’ background I’m going to treat the disease, not the patient.”
Freitag said health professionals may think a person’s gender or sexual identity does not impact their level of care, but because of this many health disparities continue to persist. A care giver’s lack of knowledge on LGBTQ health can make patients less trusting of their health care providers, Freitag said.
Lehman said it is a health professional’s duty to make up for broken trust between the LGBTQ community and the medical field.
“Patients will scan the environment for signs of possible harm and for safety,” Lehman said. “And I think the medical system has been involved in discrimination and harm to these communities. We have yet to make up for problems we have caused.”
The lack of LGBTQ health knowledge impacts patients in a variety of ways, Freitag said.
LGBTQ patients often wait to visit a health care provider because of a lack of trust in health care providers. As a result, they get diagnosed later when their diseases are more progressed, Freitag said. Additionally, Freitag said when the anatomy of a person differs from what a health care provider assumes based on gender identity, it can affect how a clinical skill is done.
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Freitag said another reason LGBTQ persons may be hesitant to visit a healthcare professional is often the patient has to educate the health care provider on LGBTQ health topics.
The trans broken arm syndrome is a term to describe this. A trans person goes in for a broken arm but the healthcare provider wants to be educated on trans health, assuming the trans person knows about trans health, Freitag said.
Freitag said in order to start closing the gap on LGBTQ health disparities health providers need to start looking at their own privilege and become aware of the issues LGBTQ people face and what they can do to help.
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Freitag said UW is on the same level as other universities for LGBTQ health curriculum, but is progressing forward with new initiatives.
“We’re at a place where we know we need to do something and there is an issue,” Freitag said. “Now people are starting to develop responses to that.”
Freitag said students are bringing their knowledge of LGBTQ topics to their classrooms across campus and helping to educate instructors and fellow students.
Freitag also organized the first LGBTQ Health Summit at UW to educate current health providers — the knowledge health providers gain at the summit can be put into practice right away. Freitag plans to make this an annual event.
“The ability for health care providers to say ‘I don’t know, but I’m going to do my homework and check on that … is really a shift,” Freitag said. “In the end, it can really affect quality, and safety and care of a patient.”