Launched in 2014, the Penn Medicine Program for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Health is one of only several programs of its kind in the country, and stands out even among this select group in the breadth of its approach.
Because the program involves faculty and staff from across the University’s health professional schools—including the Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and the School of Dental Medicine—and the hospitals and facilities of the Health System, it addresses LGBT health care issues on all fronts, including education, patient care, community outreach, research, and improving the climate for faculty, students, and staff around campus.
The program’s broad collaborative work is particularly effective due to the fact that a given health care disparity will usually be evident in more than just one allied health field, says Baligh Yehia, an assistant professor at Penn Medicine and founder of the LGBT Health Program.
“We’re one of very few programs in the country, if not the only one, that employs this interdisciplinary and team-based approach,” he says.
As one of the anchor programs for the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, the program’s mission includes initiatives to improve the cultural and clinical competencies of those interacting with and providing care for this population.
One area of LGBT health care where significantly more of these competencies are needed is transgender medicine. Among the Penn physicians who specifically serve the transgender population are Katherine Margo, an associate professor of family medicine and community health, and Allison Myers, a clinical assistant professor of family medicine and community health. Myers says the program has provided transgender patients with a much-needed way to find her and her colleagues.
For Program Co-Directors Judd Flesch and Rebecca Hirsh, both assistant professors of clinical medicine at Penn Medicine, the goal of providing excellent and empathetic health care to the LGBT community is a critical one.
Flesch believes that “the mere existence of the program, and the level of interest it’s generated, is an important symbol of how essential it is that we’re educating our staff to provide the best care to LGBT patients and making sure that our LGBT staff, physicians, and students feel 100 percent welcome in this workplace.”
Hirsh notes the wider impact of providing this level of care: “As doctors, we’re here to make people’s lives better and lend comfort, and taking care of our most vulnerable populations is fundamental to that. Plus, people who go through our training sessions or are involved in our program learn to think more comprehensively about the patients they serve, and I think that helps everyone.”