Research by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) finds 80% of US medical schools are not investigating LGBTQ health inequalities – as they are not collecting the necessary data
The findings of the AOA suggest that LGBTQ health inequalities are rife for medical students, with lack of data meaning that potential means of support cannot be implemented.
Why is data important to changing inequality?
At the moment, 80% of medical schools are not collecting sexual orientation information during the admission or enrolment processes. Data collecting, in the age of a waxing and waning digital privacy, can appear initially suspicious. But when it comes to the field of education or criminal justice, data creates a clear picture of the way things work. Most crucially, data paints a picture with negative spaces – highlighting what is missing.
For instance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the first strategic plan to increase funding for sexual and gender minority health research in 2015. Later on in 2015, the NIH allocated the LGBTQ population as a health disparity group – for which extra funding could significantly change treatment and health outcomes.
“LGBTQ students have remained invisible” says Dr Ehrenfeld
“We are flying in a data-free zone,” said study author Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, who is board certified in both anesthesiology and clinical informatics and trained at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Fundamentally, LGBTQ students have remained invisible and will remain so until we make changes. We won’t bring a marginalized population out of the shadows and into the mainstream until we have the right data.”
The team found that 43% percent of the medical school programs responded to the survey, out of 180 invitations.
20% of schools allowed applicants to report sexual orientation
Of the 75 schools who participated, 73% allowed applicants to self-report a gender identity other than male or female, while only 20% allowed applicants to report sexual orientation.
“We must recognize that understanding sexual orientation and gender identity is essential to training and retaining the qualified and motivated LGBTQ medical students who will develop into competent practicing physicians,” said Dr Ehrenfeld.
“Just as LGBTQ patients are underserved, we believe LGBTQ medical students are underrepresented and under-supported. One is unlikely to change without the other.”
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