September 11, 2014

VUSM a leader in efforts to improve LGBT health

Over the past five years there has been much progress in terms of the legal, social and cultural advancements surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.

From left, Vanderbilt’s Kristen Eckstrand, Ph.D., Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., MPH, and Andre Churchwell, M.D., hosted a summit to explore ways to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health. (photo by Joe Howell)

Over the past five years there has been much progress in terms of the legal, social and cultural advancements surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.

Health care systems are now working to tackle the next item on the agenda — how to advance LGBT health — and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine is in the center of the discussion.
Recently the school hosted a White Paper Summit aimed at creating a consensus on current LGBT issues in academic medicine.

“This was an opportunity for us to strategically plan how we wanted health care to be framed for LGBT individuals over the next five, 10 or 20 years,” said Kristen Eckstrand, Ph.D. “We were able to gather together to create a roadmap for progress for the advancement of LGBT health care.

“All of the participants felt like it was one of the first times that they were able to have a dedicated day to work in a very interactive and small group setting,” she said. “We provided the platform for academic medical centers to conceptualize how to advance their culture, climate, education and health care systems for LGBT individuals.”

Eckstrand, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, has been involved in LGBT initiatives on both the national and local levels. At Vanderbilt she is the founder and co-director of the Vanderbilt Program for LGBTI Health, an innovative effort to improve the care of LGBTI patients.

About 16 people attended the daylong session to discuss topics such as opportunities for overcoming barriers in health care education, recommendations for data collection for sexual orientation and gender identity and best practices for improving institutional culture and climate.

“As we are developing our curriculum for teaching medical students, especially on how to deliver care to specific populations, whether it is rural whites, African-Americans in the urban setting or LGBT, it is imperative that we recognize the gaping holes around research, access and outcomes,” said Andre Churchwell, M.D., senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs at VUSM.

“As we prepare for the future of health care, we need to know what the next steps need to be to ensure we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

The Office of Diversity in the School of Medicine houses the Program in LGBTI Health.

“The leadership at Vanderbilt, including those at the highest levels at both the Medical Center and the University, has made this a priority,” Churchwell said. “There is an understanding that a broader definition of diversity is crucial for success. If you don’t have this broad view of patient and employee equality, success as a medical center is not possible.”

Conference organizers, including Eckstrand, Churchwell and Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., MPH, associate professor of Anesthesiology and co-director of the Program in LGBTI Health, will compile information from the event to create a white paper to share with other institutions and organizations.

“We hope that our efforts will help academic medical centers to develop strategic action plans for valuing, including, prioritizing and improving the health and well-being of LGBT individuals, be they trainees, faculty, staff, administrators or patients,” Eckstrand said.

“Vanderbilt has a strong commitment to the LGBT community. This meeting was a way for us to not only continue our own progress, but to create and share a framework for continuing to advance LGBT health across the country.”

Before the meeting, representatives from Vanderbilt’s Program in LGBTI Health attended the White House Briefing on the Affordable Care Act and the LGBT Community, hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Churchwell said Vanderbilt’s involvement is reflective of the institution’s forward thinking concerning the LGBT community.

“In recognition of the focus that we are placing on the importance of LGBT health, this was our third time to be invited to the White House as stakeholders in LGBT health care discussions,” he said.