New course explores health issues and needs of LGBT community

Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., and Sarah Fogel, Ph.D.

A new class jointly offered by the Vanderbilt Schools of Nursing and Medicine seeks to inform students about the challenges lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals face in health care in the U.S. and to give them information to better serve their LGBT patients.

The 13-week course, LGBT Health in Interprofessional Practice, was developed by School of Medicine Associate Professor Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., MPH, and School of Nursing Professor Sarah Fogel, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN.

The course is open to any graduate level Vanderbilt student. Nursing students can take it as part of the master’s, post-master’s or doctoral education programs. Medical students take it as an elective in the third or fourth year of their medical education program and as part of an already established Graduate Certificate in LGBT Health.

Students gain an informed understanding of health disparities and specific health needs for LGBT people, said Fogel, who is also director of the ASN to MSN Program at the School of Nursing. They also gain communication skills and will be able to discuss a range of resources for patients. “All of this will impact patient interactions, quality, costs and outcomes,” Fogel said.

In the course, language, sexual development, health risks and legal and ethical issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation are defined and explored within different health care environments, as are specific health care concerns for patients with disorders of sexual development or intersex.

A growing body of research has documented health disparities between LGBT and straight patients. According to Healthy People 2020, an organization that provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving overall health, lesbians are less likely to get preventive services for cancer, gay men are at a higher risk of HIV, LGBT youth are two- to three-times more likely to attempt suicide, and transgender individuals have a high prevalence of victimization and mental health issues.

Additional research indicates that LGBT individuals may delay or avoid medical treatment for fear of encountering bias in health care settings.

“This course is not introductory. It bumps up the learning so that students learn things that actually affect the health care provided for these patients,” Fogel said.