Why do We Need a Study on LGBTQ Healthcare Experiences?
Many of us in public health are drawn to the field because we see it as a way to put social justice principles into practice. That is certainly true in my case. When you research gender, sexuality, and sexual health for a living, like I do, you see injustice every day. For example, research continually finds that LGBT individuals have poorer mental and physical health outcomes when compared to heterosexual and/or cisgender individuals (queer and genderqueer-identified people are often left out of the research altogether). The concentration of poor negative health outcomes or ‘health disparities’ within the LGBTQ community is evidence of this injustice, addressing these disparities is my priority. The training and education that providers and their staff receive can be improved. I want to help improve it.
The specific negative health outcomes among the LGBTQ population are determined by a variety of different factors, but many health issues are made worse by poor and even discriminatory treatment from healthcare providers. We need to better understand interactions between LGBTQ patients and their healthcare providers in order to address these disparities.
One reason why discriminatory and biased treatment from healthcare providers persists has to do with the education providers receive. The amount and content of LGBTQ-specific curricula provided in medical school varies from institution to institution. Depending on where a clinician is trained, they may not receive any formal education on LGBTQ health. A recent report puts the average amount of time spent teaching LGBT-related content in medical school at just 5 hours. Late last year, the American Association of Medical Colleges released an incredible guide for medical schools to implement such curricula, but the implementation is not mandatory.
Given the gaps in the existing medical school curricula, ‘cultural competency’ educational trainings for providers and their staff have been promoted as a way to improve treatment of LGBTQ patients. Unfortunately, many of these trainings do not address the assumptions providers make about LGBTQ patients which are related to health (e.g. lesbian women aren’t at risk of HPV/STI, don’t need Paps or STI testing). Many of these trainings also assume that there is one static LGBTQ culture in which providers can become competent, but the LGBTQ community is not a monolith.
This study is different from a lot of public health research (especially around sexuality) in the attention paid to identity. How we identify connects us to communities and structures our social interactions. Identity may not directly determine health status, but the two are intricately connected. I designed the LGBTQ Healthcare Experiences Study to help us understand the similarities and differences in healthcare experiences that relate to different sexual and gender identities. It is my hope that through the LGBTQ Healthcare Experiences Study I can provide new, and more nuanced, data on the relationships between healthcare needs, clinician-patient interactions, and the use of healthcare services.
If you are 18+, live in the U.S. and are a lesbian/gay, bisexual, pansexual or other queer-identified woman or a transgender or genderqueer individual, please participate!
It takes around 20 minutes to complete, and upon completion you have a 1 in 15 chance to win a $25.00 gift card. If you are eligible, I hope you will take it.
Doctoral Candidate & Research Coordinator
Center for Sexual Health Promotion
Indiana University Bloomington