UW School of Medicine and Public Health named as inaugural site for national LGBTQ+ health care fellowship program

The University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has been selected by the American Medical Association Foundation as the inaugural institution for the National LGBTQ+ Fellowship Program aimed at transforming the health equity landscape for the LGBTQ+ community. 

A total of $750,000 in funding from the foundation over four years will establish an advanced fellowship clinical training program for early-career physicians in primary care – who are “first-contact” doctors for their patients’ medical needs – in ways to optimize the health of LGBTQ+ patients. 

The ultimate goal of the program is to ensure that all LGBTQ+ patients receive the highest standards of care, according to Dr. Elizabeth Petty, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and the principal investigator and program director for the interdisciplinary fellowship program. 

“This funding provides a very exciting and critically important opportunity to integrate primary care and public health in highly innovative ways that will significantly accelerate needed change to optimize the health of LGBTQ+ and gender expansive individuals,” she said. 

The program, which will be housed in the school’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, will build on the school and health system’s existing foundations of diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies that support affirming LGBTQ+ services and will accelerate education, research and clinical initiatives. 

The first fellow will be recruited to begin their training for the year-long clinically focused academic program in July 2022. Fellows will have opportunities to extend their training beyond one year to do additional scholarship to advance LGBTQ+ health equity. The program will accept one fellow each year thereafter, with a goal of recruiting three fellows per year annually by the fifth year.

Physician fellows will undergo clinical and classroom training in LGBTQ+ health care and will engage in research, teaching, mentoring, community collaborative partnership efforts and other scholarly endeavors.

“We envision a future where LGBTQ+ and gender diverse patient populations experience optimal health and feel accepted and supported by health care providers who are well-versed in both general and unique medical needs of LGBTQ+ patients,” Petty said. “We have much ground to cover before we reach this goal, as far too many LGBTQ+ patients in our society currently experience oppression, stigma, lack of support, lack of medical understanding, and discrimination when seeking care, which leads to unacceptable and life-threatening health disparities. Our team is deeply committed to changing that narrative.” 

Several studies show that LGBTQ+ individuals experience higher rates of depression, increased suicide risk and reduced access to appropriate and timely preventative health care for chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. 

“The program’s focus is to train the next generation of physicians to provide high-quality, evidence-based, affirming patient-centered care to urgently address these disparities and to optimize health outcomes,” Petty said.

The award marks the first chapter in the foundation’s nationwide effort to train hundreds of fellows and to foster development of multi-disciplinary standards of care for LGBTQ+ individuals. The goal is to establish a workforce of physicians fluent in LGBTQ+ health care as well as a rich body of medical knowledge about best practices in caring for LGBTQ+ patients that can be disseminated throughout the academic medicine community.

“Our strong partnerships with many talented individuals at UW Health, UW–Madison, and across communities in Wisconsin and beyond will greatly enhance our ability to transform the national landscape to promote health and advance health equity both for LGBTQ+ and gender expansive individuals and for diverse individuals more broadly,” Petty said. “Through innovative programmatic efforts, we aim to help health care providers recognize and address the diverse, multi-dimensional uniqueness of all individuals in affirming, supportive ways.” 

In a stringent peer-reviewed process, the AMA Foundation selected the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health for the award due to its extensive multidisciplinary network of institutional and community leaders with expertise in LGBTQ+ health. 

“I am deeply grateful to the AMA Foundation for their recognition of the urgent need to address these important health equity issues,” Petty said. “I look forward to working with them as well as our amazing team of champions for LGBTQ+ health equity in Wisconsin and beyond.”

This program is the AMA Foundation’s response to the urgent need to address the growing health inequities and lack of quality medical care for LGBTQ+ patients, according to John D. Evans, chairman of the AMA Foundation Fellowship Commission on LGBTQ+ Health.

“The LGBTQ+ community is widely diverse, and for those members of the community who are also members of other marginalized groups – such as people of color, people with disabilities and those living in rural communities – the outcomes are exponentially worse,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the health care inequities for LGBTQ+ people of color and other marginalized communities as those groups received inconsistent and inadequate care and representation throughout the pandemic.”

 

Article by Sara Benzel

Photo by Bryce Richter /UW-Madison