At a time when the Trump administration is rapidly unraveling healthcare protections for LGBTQ people, one institution is launching a class to help its doctors serve the community.
The University of Minnesota has announced an LGBTQ elective for medical students starting this fall. The school is among the first in the nation to offer such a course. Harvard Medical School made headlines in late 2016 when it launched a similar elective in partnership with the LGBTQ clinic Fenway Health.
Like Harvard’s program, UMN is partnering with two community organizations that serve queer people: the Family Tree Clinic and the Pride Institute, which focuses on addiction issues.
“The ultimate hope is, one, to legitimize this as an area of interest and maybe even focus for future physicians,” said Dr. Michael Ross, chair of Sexual Health Education in the Program in Human Sexuality. “The second is to provide the medical students who are about to become physicians with actual focused training in the populations they have an interest in serving.”
For 47 years, the university has prided itself on its prestigious Program in Human Sexuality. But some students yearned for trainings not offered in the current coursework, said Ross.
“The students had frequently said they would like to follow up in areas of human sexuality,” said Ross. “One of the areas that the students and faculty both prioritized was LGBT health.”
Six of the program’s 170 students will take the elective this fall, but Ross hopes to grow the course over time, adding to the community partners students can work with. The elective will be open to third and fourth-year students.
The course not only means a new opportunity for students but an unusual opportunity for LGBTQ care providers to expand their reach beyond their doors. It’s not often that prestigious universities partner with radical health clinics, says Family Tree Clinic Executive Director Alissa Light.
“I think one of the most important learning opportunities is to be in an immersive environment with LGBTQ patients and LGBTQ staff and providers so that you’re learning in an experiential way about how to respectfully honor people’s identities and self-determination,” said Light. “That is just not something that is a routine or rote part of medical provider education.”
The new elective comes at a time of increased awareness about LGBTQ issues at UMN. The school is in the midst of debating an ambitious new gender identity policy. Under that rule, students, faculty, and staff would be required to refer to transgender community members by their preferred names and pronouns or face possible disciplinary actions. Trans people would also granted access to bathrooms, locker rooms and housing that correspond with the gender identity.
Light says the new elective reflects heightened visibility for queer Minnesotans that she credits to grassroots leaders like local activist Roxanne Anderson and Andrea Jenkins, the first black trans woman elected to public office last year.
But she also hopes the new course will resonate beyond just Minnesota.
“I think it’s deeply replicable and pretty straightforward,” said Light. She hopes other universities will follow suit.
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