PHILADELPHIA — Penn Medicine is the first academic medical center in Philadelphia — one among just a handful of academic medical centers in the U.S. — to launch a program across multiple professional schools and affiliated hospitals at Penn to improve the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Health disparities and inequalities within this community have become increasingly recognized, but are rarely addressed in today’s health care settings.
The Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health is focusing on five key areas to help address these gaps:
“This program is unique to the region because of its comprehensive and interdisciplinary nature, touching on parts of the Penn family that are pivotal to moving the needle in LGBT health care—taking patient care, research, and education to the next level,” said Baligh Yehia, MD, MPP, MSHP, director of the program and assistant professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine. “Our vision is to improve the care of LGBT individuals in our communities by becoming a local and national leader in LGBT health.”
The program is being rolled out in the Perelman School of Medicine, Penn School of Nursing, Penn School of Dental Medicine, Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives, and hospitals and facilities of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Leading federal institutions and national organizations have recognized that many members of the LGBT community face barriers to high-quality, patient-centered care, including decreased access to health care, lack of awareness and insensitivity to their unique health needs, and inequitable health system policies and practices. These barriers contribute to the multiple health disparities experienced by LGBT individuals.
For instance, compared to their heterosexual counterparts, LGBT populations have higher rates of HIV, certain forms of cancer, depression, suicide, and tobacco use. LGBT adults are also more likely to delay or avoid seeking medical care due to decreased access and fear of discrimination.
Research is also scant—a recent study found that only one half of 1 percent of National Institutes of Health-funded studies between 1989 and 2011 focused on LGBT health—and though it’s improving, education is minimal in today’s medical schools. Students receive, on average, less than 5 hours of LGBT health training, according to a survey of 150 deans of medical education.
The new program at Penn is broad by design and ranges from improving patients’ healthcare experiences by implementing new policies and trainings to fostering collaborations among faculty investigating LGBT health issues to improved outreach to better serve the needs of the community.
“By harnessing the stellar resources within the Penn family, this program has the opportunity to better serve LGBT populations in Philadelphia and beyond with these areas of focus,” said Dr. Yehia, whose own research and expertise centers on HIV/AIDS, LGBT health, and health policy. He also serves as chair of the American Medical Association’s LGBT Advisory Committee and scientific chair of the national LGBT Health Workforce Conference.
“One of the first things we have started to do is assess LGBT health knowledge among trainees, implement training programs for clinical staff, and ensure patients and staff are protected in health system policies with respect to their sexual orientation and gender identity,” he added.
With support from Patrick J. Brennan, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of UPHS, and program faculty advisor Neil O. Fishman, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer, the program secured funding from the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the Provost’s Excellence Through Diversity Fund.
The program will also be guided by fellow Penn diversity leaders, including Nancy Tkacs, PhD, RN, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Cultural Affairs, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Beverley A. Crawford, DDS, Director of Diversity Affairs, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine.
“The Perelman School of Medicine fully supports the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health and its mission to alleviate the health disparities affecting LGBT populations,” said Eve J. Higginbotham, SM, MD, Vice Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Perelman. “The strong partnership between the schools and the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health will no doubt foster a vibrant and dynamic environment of inclusion and will help advance the health of the community.”
Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.
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