Medical students spend countless hours in the classroom learning the ins and outs of medicine, every inch of human anatomy and how to diagnose rare diseases. They only spend about five hours, however, learning about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health.
That's according to a newly released survey by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Medical Education Research Group at Stanford University School of Medicine.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, asked deans of medical education how many hours they spend on LGBT-related curricular content. The median answer was about five hours.
"Some doctors may not realize what they don't know about LGBT health and health care, and that can be dangerous," said Elizabeth Goldsmith, a student at Stanford University School of Medicine and one of the co-authors of the study. "If doctors aren't prepared to treat patients with particular sexual orientations or gender identities, or aren't comfortable with their patients, trust is much harder to build between patient and care provider."
Of the 132 U.S. and Canadian deans who completed the questionnaire, about 33 percent reported not covering LGBT-related health content at all during clinical years.
That means medical students could be missing out on instruction for handling key health issues for the LGBT population. That, Goldsmith says, could put lives at risk.
"Some lesbians have gone decades without a Pap smear because their doctors have told them it isn't necessary," she said. "But HPV can be passed between women, and some of these women have developed cervical cancer that could have been prevented."
The survey's findings, though, do demonstrate that the need for improvement is recognized in the medical community. About 25 percent of respondents rated their own schools' coverage of LGBT-related curricular material as "good" or "very good," but more than 70 percent rated coverage as "fair," "poor," or "very poor."
The push for more research on LGBT-related health content has gained attention recently. The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine issued a report this year describing LGBT health-related areas in particular need of study.
"What I can say is that zero time, which, unfortunately, some schools do seem to dedicate, especially during clinical training, is not enough," said Goldsmith. "As with every other area of science, research is the foundation of successful action here. We're working to help build the foundation."