The University of Michigan Spectrum Center collaborated with the Rackham Graduate School and medical student organization OutMD Monday to host a panel of LGBTQ-affirming medical professionals. During the event held at Rackham Auditorium, University faculty and health service professionals discussed their experiences with LGBTQ-identifying patients and offered advice to undergraduate and graduate students seeking reliable and friendly health care.

OutMD is a student organization within the Medical School for LGBTQ-identifying medical students and their allies. OutMD helped organize the event and aims to spread the word regarding disparities LGBTQ patients face within medicine and health care.

The speakers on the panel each had a unique perspective that allowed students to better understand the breadth of this topic, from both a student and a medical patient perspective.

The panel was moderated by Paul Artale, academic program manager for graduate student engagement at Rackham. After receiving feedback from an LGBTQ graduate student task force regarding topics they wished to see implemented by the school, Artale and his colleagues began curating an event focused on education and student engagement surrounding LGBTQ-affirming medicine.

“The goal is to give participants the opportunity to ask experts whatever questions they have, so hopefully they can get some specific advice that would help them in their situation,” Artale said.

When asked about their formal education surrounding affirming medical care and treating LGBTQ patients, the panelists agreed that little to no coursework was offered regarding this practice. Panelists explained it takes time and outside resources to learn about providing health care in a manner that welcomes trans, non-binary and queer individuals.

One of the panelists, Diana Parrish, a care manager through at the University Health Services, said learning to be an affirming provider required self-reflection and distance from her personal identity in order to better understand LGBTQ experiences which may differ from her own.

“A turning point for me in being an affirming provider was recognizing several years ago that being queer myself is not enough — that’s not the whole story,” Parrish said. “I really appreciated being introduced to the concept of cultural humility as opposed to cultural competence.”

Affirming health care is necessary for many members of the LGBTQ community, as patients must ensure that their physicians are understanding and accepting of their identity. Discrimination, mistreatment and ignorance are just a few reactions LGBTQ individuals can receive when facing a healthcare provider, and finding the right provider can take time and energy.

According to the panelists, this affirmative attitude should span beyond the patient’s primary physician to the staff members and other employees in a medical environment. A poor interaction at the front desk or with a nurse may inhibit their comfort within the doctor’s office environment, especially for transgender and non-binary people.

Another panelist, Daphna Stroumsa, a clinical lecturer and obstetrician-gynecologist in Michigan Medicine, noted the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ community and urged audience members to work together to ensure people are safe and comfortable in their environments.

“We hear a lot about how difficult it is to be (LGBTQ), and that’s true, but I think it’s worth mentioning how strong this community is,” Stroumsa said. “I think we as a community, as a community of providers, as a community of patients, can build on the strength to use our networks.”

Medical School student Anuj Patel, co-president of OutMD, attended the event hoping to educate the greater campus community about the conflicts LGBTQ people face in the medical field.

“LGBTQ people face a lot of health care disparities,” Patel said “For instance, they have higher rates of mental health (problems), depression and suicide. These (events) are really important to learn about ways LGBTQ people can feel more comfortable in health care environments and find providers that are right for them.”

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