I recently had the privilege of walking in the Indy Pride parade alongside Indiana University School of Medicine faculty, staff and learners. As we carried banners that read “Diversity is Vital” and “LGBTQ MD,” we were greeted by cheers. Many people called out, “We need you, School of Medicine!”
It was a powerful reminder that as a medical school, our top priority is to ensure all patients have access to and receive the best care possible—everyone including members of the LGBTQ community.
To accomplish that, we must teach culturally competent care and eliminate barriers that lead to health disparities. We must also ensure the school fosters a welcoming and supportive environment for people of all backgrounds, races, sexual orientations and gender identities.
Participating in Indy Pride is one way to publicly demonstrate our commitment to those values. But even more important is the leadership we provide every day in the area of LGBTQ health care.
In recognition of Pride Month, I want to take a moment to share a few examples of important work underway at IU School of Medicine.
IU School of Medicine is home to extraordinary faculty like Janine Fogel, MD, who started the Transgender Health & Wellness Program at Eskenazi Health. Launched in 2016, the program is the only one of its kind in Indiana. Beyond primary care, it offers comprehensive, multidisciplinary services such as hormone therapy, legal support, speech therapy, and behavioral and spiritual care.
Likewise, Sidhbh Gallagher, MD, leads our gender affirming surgery program – one of the few in the Midwest – and has provided expert surgical care to more than 350 patients. She has also been a fierce advocate of requiring insurance to pay for these procedures. Along with others at the school, she played an important role in IU’s decision to expand employee health care coverage to include gender affirming surgery for transgender individuals.
At Riley Hospital for Children, J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD, MS, provides exceptional support to children and adolescents with gender dysphoria through the Gender Health Program. Again, the program is unique in the state of Indiana.
To complement these clinical programs, we are conducting ongoing work to review and update our core medical school curriculum. In addition, the school has created formal electives and residency tracks in LGBTQ health care.
These programs provide students and residents the opportunity to learn from patients and faculty experts and to experience what it means to deliver high-quality, appropriate care. This includes using proper terminology, learning how to obtain a sexual history and understanding some of the psychosocial factors that may affect LGBTQ patients. And, above all, students learn about the health disparities and unconscious biases faced by the LGBTQ community.
These experiences are so critical because we know that—no matter what specialty they pursue or where they choose to practice—our graduates must understand and respect that gender identity, sexual health and sexual orientation are part of every patient’s well-being.
What else are we doing?
- Each year, the school hosts an LGBTQ Health Care Conference. The two-day event was held this past March and was attended by more than 160 physicians, nurses, physician assistants and other health professionals.
- We are investing in renovations and signage changes at campuses throughout the state to add more gender-neutral restrooms.
- Through Faculty Affairs, Professional Development and Diversity, we provide unconscious bias training for faculty, staff and learners. The office also offers an LGBTQ training workshop that covers topics such as terminology, best practices for collecting gender identity and sexual orientation information, and other unique considerations.
- We provide expertise and financial support for OutCare, a nonprofit organization started and run by IU School of Medicine students and faculty with the goal of connecting LGBTQ individuals with the most appropriate health care providers, resources and events. The school also provides mentoring and support to Alliance, our LGBTQ and allies student interest group.
- We have strong policies about mistreatment, clear pathways for our students and residents to report mistreatment, and a robust system for investigating and addressing mistreatment.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I recognize there is still a great deal more we, as health care professionals, must do. But I want to give you a sense of how committed I am to this work. We are dedicated to eliminating barriers faced by LGBTQ individuals and ensuring our medical community is inclusive and reflective of the people we serve.