By Wendy Sarubbi | October 18, 2011 9:31 am

For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients, seeking health care means worrying about discrimination and bias when they step into a doctor’s office.

That shouldn’t be, said College of Medicine M-3 students Tiffany Chen and Katherine Ferstadt. They were inspired to look at how UCF’s medical school curriculum shapes health care for that community as part of their Focused Individualized Research Experience (FIRE) module. The students recently presented their report at the 2011 Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) conference in Atlanta.

“There was a lot of interest this year on how to improve LGBT health care,” said Tiffany, adding several people at the conference asked her and Ferstadt to help them develop curriculum at their medical schools.

The students used the 60-member class of 2014 as their study population. In August 2010, they gave the class a survey about LGBT health care. During the next seven months, Tiffany Chen and Katherine worked with professors to provide about 27 hours of LGBT content to the curriculum, including activities in the Clinical Skills and Simulation Center.

At the end of seven months, the students gave the class another survey. Even though only 21 surveys were returned, Chen called the results “encouraging.” The survey showed students had gained a lot in knowledge and attitude, she said. To gather more detailed results, Tiffany and Katherine are repeating their study with the Class of 2015. They are expanding the time between the initial and final surveys to 10 months.

Both students reported these alarming statistics:

  • In a 2009 survey of 5,000 LGBT patients, more than 50 percent reported some form of health-care discrimination, such as a physician refusing to touch them or blaming them for their condition. The Lambda Legal, a national organization that advocates for the LGBT community, conducted the survey.
  • A 1991 survey by the Louisiana State University School of Medicine found that, on average, U.S. medical schools devoted 3.5 hours out of the entire four-year program to LGBT topics.
  • That number has now increased to five hours, according to a recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Something as simple as the structure of medical forms can cause anxiety in LGBT patients, said Katherine. For example, transgender patients might worry about how to fill in their legal names. Other LGBT patients might pause over filling in marital status. A patient might not disclose important information to a doctor because of these fears, she said.

“We want to be sure every medical student in the College of Medicine is educated on this issue and can take good care of their patients,” said Katherine.

Although their research is focused on the LGBT population, both students stressed they would like their study to benefit all patients.

“Every single patient deserves to be treated well,” Tiffany said.

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