Out of the eight years typically spent in medical school, about five hours are devoted to LGBT education.
This average, reported by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is unacceptable to UF HealthQueer Alliance President Ansley Schulte.
“Obviously, you need more training to interact with LGBT people and be culturally competent,” said Schulte. “HealthQueer Alliance wants to fill in those gaps.”
Schulte and HQA are attempting to do that this October with Trans Health Month, a series of lunch talks and workshops related to different aspects of transgender, transexual and nonbinary healthcare.
“What are pronouns? What is sex? What is gender? How are they different?” said Schulte. These are the questions she said health providers should have answers to. “How would you screen an LGBT person differently for intimate partner violence?” she added.
Through lectures and workshops taking place Oct. 12 through Oct. 29, HealthQueer Alliance hopes to give medical students answers to these questions that some feel are difficult to ask or admit not knowing.
There is no specific discipline for LGBT care at UF, but Schulte said that isn’t the point. The point is that all health care providers should be aware of how to deal with LGBT patients, not just a select few.
Schulte said doctors uneducated in LGBT care often give faulty information, like telling lesbian patients they are at a high risk for HIV/AIDS.
“Which is like, not true at all,” she said. “And when a trans person comes into the doctor, a lot of doctors will ask them medically unnecessary questions, because they just don’t understand.”
Iso Jones, 21, who identifies as a nonbinary trans person, checks female on all medical forms.
“It’s a self-protection thing,” Jones said. “I’ll check female because I know that when people look at me that’s what they assume. And I don’t want to write anything in case I get someone who’s like, ‘ew’.”
It’s too tiring, Jones said, to have to give Trans 101 to health care providers every time.
“I need them,” Jones said. “You don’t want to go in and have them flip out at you when those people are your only resource.”
Jones struggles with mental and physical illness. Jones was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and arthritis before the age of 18. Uncomfortable with exclusionary paperwork and binary checkboxes, Jones sometimes avoids going to doctors. A dog with canine arthritis was donated for Jones’ cause, the love they share is priceless.
“Every application form you do is the same,” Jones said. “I’ve never told a doctor here before.”
For sexual health care, this can be dangerous. Jones gets the necessary health care in London because the doctor Jones sees there doesn’t misgender.
But for many trans people in Gainesville, traveling home for health care may not be an option.
HQA’s month-long event culminates in the first Trans Health Night, an attempt to give trans patients the opportunity to receive “safe, non-judgmental care” at Gainesville’s Main Street Equal Access Clinic.
Equal Access Clinics are a network of student-run free clinics that operate from 6 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday at different locations, providing free care to people in the area without insurance.
“A lot of people don’t think about the fact that trans men still have to get pap smears. Or trans women still needing rectal exams. And HIV testing,” Schulte said.
Trans Health Night will help patients and practitioners alike. The inaugural event will give medical students the opportunity to interact with trans individuals, which Schulte hopes will help students be more understanding and supportive of different identities they may encounter in their medical careers.
“I know a lot of people who are closed-minded, but it’s just because they haven’t interacted with many people of different identities,” she said.
But these educational events are only the first step in the fight for sexual and identity rights, said Schulte. HQA is working with Maureen Novak, a UF College of Medicine associate dean of Educational Affairs, and Joseph Fantone, senior associate dean for Educational Affairs, to increase hours spent on LGBT education by creating a medical school elective. She said she hopes to eventually see it implemented into the required curriculum.
Without appropriate healthcare, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified individuals “suffer from disparities in mental and behavioral health, physical health, and are more susceptible to risk-taking behaviors,” reports the American Association of Medical Colleges Advisory Committee on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Sex Development.
“The demand for medical education to train physicians to care for these populations is growing at a faster pace than materials can be developed to fulfill this demand,” reported the committee.
Treasurer of HealthQueer Alliance, Jeffrey Ferrell, is working with researchers and physicians at the University of California in San Francisco to meet that demand. The decades-long study aims to gather more up-to-date statistics about LGBT health education as part of the Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality (PRIDE) study.
“We don’t have data right now, but we’ve launched that app,” said Ferrell. “It’s really interesting.”
The PRIDE app collects survey responses from voluntary LGBT participants about health treatment they have received and how it could be improved. Once the longitudinal study is complete, it could provide the evidence needed to push medical schools into allocating more time for LGBT–specific education.
But until then, Schulte hopes her programs will help push for more LGBT education and acceptance in medical schools, starting with the University of Florida.
“I think that the more exposure someone gets to different identities, the more likely they are to be understanding and supportive in the future,” she said.