Student-led conference destigmatizes LGBTQ health

Medical students organize event to educate and empower health-care practitioners to make their practice more inclusive.


(Edmonton) A group of medical students at the University of Alberta is making great strides in breaking down barriers for sexual minorities.

On May 3, the first Inclusive Health Conference, the brainchild of Anthony Lott, MD class of 2014, and organized by the Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Advocacy Committee in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, was held on campus.

Open to medical students, residents, physicians and the community at large, the conference focused on educating, informing and empowering those who work with and treat members of the LGBTQ community.

“Knowledge is power, and we are raising awareness of the influence of sexual and gender identity on health,” said Lott before the conference, which saw more than 50 participants. “I hope that attendees will reflect back on the personal stories and expert presentations shared at the Inclusive Health Conference, and consider how they can make their practice a bit more inclusive to all.”

The one-day conference, said Lott, had a short-term goal of educating health-care practitioners on LGBTQ issues, with the long-term expectation of improving health-care outcomes for LGBTQ patients.

D. Douglas Miller, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, said the conference reflects the faculty’s priority of respecting the “rich diversity of individuals, each with distinct health concerns.”

“In addition to providing knowledgeable care, physicians are tasked with combating societal stigmatization against LGBTQ individuals,” said Miller at the conference. “The respectful treatment of patients and their families in all care settings, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is absolutely critical in the pursuit of this goal. Yet, without the deliberate recognition of the existence of this systemic stigmatization, we cannot hope to cultivate culturally competent care providers.”

Medical student and conference organizer Ian Armstrong noted that it is equally important to recognize the strengths that LGBTQ physicians and allied health-care workers can contribute to a meaningful dialogue.

“We hope that the conference's success will make current LGBTQ medical students and physicians feel valued, and provide a starting point for mentorship and support,” he said.

“Our hope is that dialogue about attitudes towards LGBTQ people will not only improve patient care, but will also stimulate reflection at a more personal level on how respectful and LGBTQ-friendly our training and work environments really are, and what we can do to improve them.”