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June 08, 2021

Unified in Pride: LGBTQ+ programs and initiatives at the School of Medicine and beyond

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“True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” –Brené Brown

Pride news 2This June, the School of Medicine is highlighting the extraordinary voices, programs, initiatives, patient care, and research committed to improving the lives and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. Last week, we shared an exceptional interview with Stephanie Perry, M.A., on cultural humility, why UAB is important for her family, and how to be a better ally.

Next, we are highlighting a sample of significant programs and initiatives committed to strengthening LGBTQ+ inclusivity at the School of Medicine and UAB at-large.

Medical student MedPride

For years, MedPride has served as safe space for medical students who identify as LGBTQ+. The organization offers students peer support, well-being resources, and a sense of belonging.

MedPride leader, Andres Camino, says that “MedPride helps foster a safe space for LGBTQ+ students by having programming that builds community around members, while also incorporating events that seek to teach the entire UAB School of Medicine community about the healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ individuals.”

The organization hosts several student functions throughout the year and helps them navigate the challenges of medical school. It also seeks to prepare students for future practice, while educating them on other relevant topics. Plus, MedPride serves as a conduit to connect LGBTQ+ students with mentors who may have similar life experiences.

MedPride typically hosts a core of around ten to twelve students at a time.

“I think a big goal for MedPride, like for many affinity groups, is allowing our LGBTQ+ community to grow and bond throughout all four years of medical school and beyond,” Camino says. “We want to have a strong network of LGBTQ+ students and allies who are helping to create a more inclusive and accepting environment at UAB and beyond.”

Allies are welcome at many MedPride events at several times throughout the year. Events provide peer-mentorship informational sessions for both students and allies. Prior to COVID, these events included on-campus lunch-and-learns, where trainings like SafeZone were facilitated. For the time being, MedPride has shifted to a virtual format and is still offering trainings and network opportunities.

Medical school curriculum for LGBTQ+ topics

The School of Medicine is proud of our groundbreaking and excellent education, which offers options for LGBTQ+ special courses. A foundational understanding between sexual orientation and gender identity is key for developing a more inclusive curriculum. With these efforts, students learn skill sets and foster aptitudes to communicate proficiently with future patients and colleagues on those topics.

In 2012, James Raper, CRNP, Ph.D., J.D., FAAN, FAANP, FIDSA, professor of Medicine and Nursing, offered a special topics co-enrolled course on LGBTQ+ health called “Health and Wellbeing of the LGBTQ community: A geopolitical and Health-Centered Perspective.”

As well, Shawn Galin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Medicine—who is the Endocrine course director for the MS2 curriculum—has incorporated a large group session on physician competencies while working with LGBTQ+ patients. “This 2-hour session includes a didactic portion on physician competencies, led by physicians, followed by a panel of volunteers representing the LGBT community, to provide Q&A with the medical students and their shared experience navigating health care,” Galin says.

Plus, as the director of the UAB Office of Standardized Patient Education, Galin received a HSF grant to employ transgender community members to serve as “patients” in simulated clinical encounters with MS-3 students, as a part of students’ Internal Medicine clerkship. Galin explains that this experience “provides our medical students the opportunity to work with a transgender individual and develop comfort and confidence in treating transgender patients. We are coming up to the end of grant funding this year, which has been funding these activities since 2017.”

Currently, a summer internship at the School of Medicine, in partnership with Wake Forest School of Medicine, focuses on developing a sexual health curriculum that includes topics on enhancing delivery of care for LGBTQ+ individuals and groups.

Nicholas Van Wagoner, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for Students and associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, explains that “providers do not always have the skill set to properly care for LGBTQ+ individuals, and supplementing curriculum for the next generation of providers will help bridge the gap.”

Pride news 1GME MedPride

Similar to MedPride for medical students, GME MedPride offers mentorship to LGBTQ+ residents and fellows. The organization focuses on trainee well-being and offers guidance in the student-to-physician pipeline.

Zachary Walker, M.D., PGY-4 in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is the chair of GME MedPride. He says the organization aims to advocate for LGBTQ+ trainees, while providing a safe place for those individuals.

GME MedPride garners a space of belonging with open-mindedness and open dialogue for LGBTQ+ trainees.

GME MedPride hosts seminars and meetings, while seeking new avenues for advocacy, like ongoing discussions with the Dean's Council for Graduate Medical Education (DCGME). The DCGME promotes a more diverse presence of highly qualified trainees at UAB, while continuing to promote a culture and environment that is welcoming and inclusive.

Occasionally, GME MedPride offers open events for allies and advocates, several of which have volunteered to mentor LGBTQ+ trainees.

AMA Foundation LGBTQ+ Fellowship

One major effort at the School of Medicine is an upcoming opportunity to apply to the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation’s new National LGBTQ+ Fellowship Program. The AMA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the AMA.

The application process is led by Rodney Tucker, M.D., professor in the Department of Medicine, who is currently creating a committee of faculty who identify as LGBTQ+ and allies to help design an outstanding, interdisciplinary curriculum.

The fellowship offers a one year training experience for resident physicians. Additionally, physicians would help train faculty within the institution to enhance their skillsets and knowledge around LGBTQ+ health. Plus, the AMA Foundation’s fellowship offers funding for up to four years to support physicians and physician-scientists in developing more robust LGBTQ+ curriculum. These efforts would remarkably support and promote LGBTQ+ health to become its own specialty in health care.

“Now is the time to create an LGBTQ+ specialty in health care,” Tucker says. “There are many disparities in this population besides HIV/AIDS and substance abuse, such as disparities in cancer outcomes, aging, etc. that require research, community outreach, and health care. We need dedicated time and funding to understand disparities in the LGBTQ+ population.”

Tucker says he has high aspirations for an accepted application to the AMA Foundation’s LGBTQ+ Fellowship Program. In the same way, if the committee’s application is not accepted for this cycle, he and the steering committee would identify other opportunities for LGBTQ+ program funding.

Healthcare Equality Index

UAB Medicine has earned top marks from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation since 2016. The HRC Foundation works to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals by increasing understanding and promoting the adoption of inclusive policy and practice.

For the fourth time, UAB Medicine has been recognized as with the LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leader designation. Leadership status was appointed for a two-year cycle for 2020-2021 due to more inclusive LGBTQ health insurance policies, as well as continued adoption of best practices for inclusive patient care and employment.

The Healthcare Equality Index is a survey that polls employees and patients on their experiences. When the numerical score from the survey is high enough, the institution surveyed earns HRC Foundation leadership status. Participants are surveyed on policies, patient services and support, employee benefits, community engagement, and more.

For this past cycle, UAB Medicine earned a score of 100 points, while another 193 facilities earned the Top Performer designation for scoring 80-95 points. 90% of participating facilities scored 80 points of more.

School of Medicine LGBTQ+ Mentorship

Mentorship is an incredibly important initiative at the School of Medicine, and providing LGBTQ+ individuals with these opportunities is critical. The Office for Diversity and Inclusion, in partnership with GME Diversity and Inclusion, is currently working on a mentorship program for LGBTQ+ students and trainees. A mentorship portal is in the works, which would provide an avenue to create mentoring relationships.

Latesha Elopre, M.D., MPSH, director of Diversity and Inclusion for Graduate Medical Education, says “At this time, we are meeting with several groups across campus including faculty, administrators, students, and staff interested in improving mentorship opportunities for groups that are underrepresented in medicine compared to the patient population we serve. With their feedback, it is our goal to intentionally expand both our mentee and mentorship groups, especially for trainees who identify as LGBTQ+.”

Leadership in the Diversity and Inclusion space are in the process of reviewing, revising, and re-imagining the existing mentorship portal, and considering many options for how it could be used to support a number of needs of students and trainees.

Show your support

As an employee, trainee, or student of the School of Medicine, several options for allyship exist. One way to show your support is to download these new gender pronoun email signatures. Asking and correctly using someone’s gender pronouns shows respect and validation. Plus, it normalizes our unique identities and breaks through stigmas related to gender.