Fighting Health Care Stigmas in the LGBTQIA Community

Published on 16 July 2018

Every June, communities come together to highlight the important contributions that the LGBTQIA community brings to St. Louis. Numerous educational events are held to observe the history of LGBTQIA rights. However, this month of celebration comes in stark contrast to the reality of the distinct health disparities that exist within this community. St. Louis College of Pharmacy has sought to alter this reality with a commitment to cultural competency.

“As future practitioners, our students need to recognize that health care is about treating the whole person and understand the diverse background that each patient carries with them,” said Alechia Abioye, assistant director of diversity and inclusion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), members of the LGBTQIA community are more likely to experience inequality in the health care they receive than their heterosexual counterparts. The College recently hosted a “Mental Health in the LGBTQIA Community” panel discussion to educate future health care professionals on the stigmas faced by this marginalized community when seeking medical care.

“Societal influences are one of the most common barriers to health care access,” she said. “This is why it’s so important for health care providers to be aware of, and understand, the various identities which may prevent people from seeking care.”

The College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is woven throughout its mission, vision and values and programs. In today’s interconnected world, it has become paramount for future health care professionals to focus on cultural competence and the importance of interacting with people from diverse backgrounds.

“As future health care professionals, it’s important for our students to not only understand a patient’s clinical needs, but also aspects of an individual’s identity,” Isaac Butler, Pharm.D., MBA, vice president for diversity and inclusion at the College. “You cannot provide effective patient-centered care unless you are respectful and responsive to the individual person’s needs.”

Butler added, “It’s not just behavior or medical care that impacts a person’s health, but the biggest factor that impacts patient care are social conditions that influence engagement, security and overall well-being.”

The WHO explains that some members of the LGBTQIA community choose not to seek out health care services because of the stigma against their sexual orientation or gender identity. There is also a fear that health care professionals lack the ability to keep gender identities and sexual orientation confidential. As with any patient, there are many variables that must be taken into account in order to best serve their needs.

Panel discussions, like the recent event held on campus focused on mental health in the LGBTQIA community, provides the opportunity for individuals from various health care disciplines and backgrounds to engage in thoughtful and intriguing discussions that are impactful and educational for all those in attendance, including students.

Throughout the upcoming academic year, the College will host panel discussions and cultural events to continue the discussion on social and cultural issues. Events will include an African dance workshop, an interactive Tunnel of Oppression, disability awareness events and much more.

“In order for students to be successful, it’s important to educate them on how to manage patients in a global society,” Butler said. “Through education, we can improve health outcomes and work to eliminate health disparities. “

For more information on upcoming diversity and inclusion events, visit stlcop.edu/events.

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