Members of the LGBTQ community have poorer health outcomes than their heterosexual counterparts. They are at higher risk for certain conditions, including cancer (lung, anal, breast), obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, substance use and suicide.
Differences in sexual behavior account for some health disparities, but others are often linked to stigma and discrimination. They might even experience bias or discrimination from health care providers.
"The LGBTQ community faces many health disparities and is often not included in medical education," said Juan Oves, a fourth-year medical student at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM). "Many studies have shown that physicians are often not prepared to provide adequate care to LGBTQ patients."
To address this, HWCOM launched a new elective course focused on LGBTQ health. Medical students can choose to rotate for two to four weeks at a clinical site or community partner to develop the skills and knowledge to provide care for the LGBTQ community. It also allows students to expand their clinical experience and expertise in LGBTQ health while creating a scholarly project. And the students can further expand their knowledge through online resources from the Fenway Institute's LGBTQIA+ National Health Education Center.
Oves has a master's degree in public health and many years of experience with LGBTQ health disparities and working with local community-based organizations. He used that experience to help Dr. Sarah Stumbar, assistant dean for clinical education, develop the syllabus for the course. That was more than four years ago when he worked as a coordinator at the college of medicine before becoming a student there. Recently, he became the college's first medical student to take the elective course. A second student just started the elective this month.
"I spent four weeks at Care Resource, one of South Florida's federally qualified health centers learning about transgender care, HIV medicine, women's health and public health," Oves said. As part of his elective project, he also developed an easy-to-use info sheet for primary care providers to use when prescribing HIV prevention medications like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and nPEP (non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV. It can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%. And yet, many physicians do not prescribe it because they are not familiar with the medication.
So, training medical students to understand LGBTQ health and provide culturally competent care is an essential first step in improving LGBTQ health outcomes.