December 11, 2014

VUSM student making impact on LGBT health

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine student Kristen Eckstrand, Ph.D., is making a national impact on the way health care is delivered to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities.

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine student Kristen Eckstrand, Ph.D., is making a national impact on the way health care is delivered to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities.

Kristen Eckstrand, Ph.D.

As chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Advisory Committee on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Sex Development, Eckstrand co-edited and co-authored a groundbreaking national guide developed to educate the academic medical community about the health needs of patients who are LGBT, gender nonconforming and/or born with differences in sex development (DSD).

The publication, “Implementing Curricular and Institutional Climate Changes to Improve Health Care for Individuals Who are LGBT, Gender Nonconforming, or Born with DSD: A Resource for Medical Educators,” was developed by an expert team representing medicine, nursing, psychology and basic science and will be used to assist academic health centers in implementing and modifying existing curricula to be inclusive and responsive to individual patients’ needs.

“This book is the first step,” said Eckstrand, who has chaired the committee since 2012. “The AAMC is the first and only academic health association to produce a comprehensive evidence-based curriculum and institutional guide.

“Our team wrote the book with several goals in mind: to provide education around the health needs of LGBT individuals, highlight the role of academic medical centers in supporting these populations, provide support to medical schools and medical educators in integrating this content into medical education as well as improving institutional culture and climate for LGBT students, faculty, staff and patients,” she said.

A standardized set of 30 competencies related to sexual orientation, gender identity and sex development for all students and trainees to be competent in is outlined in the document. The publication also describes the importance of institutional climate and faculty continuing education.

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.

Eckstrand said diversity in medical education has evolved since she first arrived at Vanderbilt in 2008.

“Medical education has paralleled the national stage on LGBT issues,” Eckstrand said. “As more states are eliminating discriminatory policies, passing same-sex marriage laws and moving toward equality for all people, medical education has taken responsibility for its role in educating the next generation of physicians to provide comprehensive care for LGBT patients.

“Now is the right time for a transformation in medical education,” she stressed. “The emphasis that academic medicine has placed on providing comprehensive and patient-centered care to LGBT patients is phenomenal. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this growth.”

Eckstrand noted that health care disparities in both the delivery of services as well as in outcomes within the LGBT community prompted the AAMC to create a dedicated expert team to explore the need for improved provider training and patient care.

As a Vanderbilt medical student, Eckstrand said she is honored to serve as the chair of the expert panel and is proud that Vanderbilt made her role at the AAMC a priority.

“I am a student,” Eckstrand said. “Vanderbilt has been incredibly supportive of my taking on a national leadership position.

“Vanderbilt is nationally regarded as an institution who has worked to integrate LGBTI health care into undergraduate medical education and across all areas of the Medical Center. We are a model for others. We are stepping up and caring for all members of our community, period.”

The free publication is available here.