In honour of pride month, the Division of Social Accountability has connected with medical students Colten Molnar and Jovana Miladinovic to highlight the great work of the student groups: qHealth and Gender Equity in Medicine (GEM). Colten and Jovana provided answers to our following questions:
Q: How do qHealth and GEM focus their energy?
A: The Queer Health Interest Group (qHealth) is focused on providing opportunities for queer and ally medical students to engage in advocacy and education regarding 2SLGBTQ+ health topics. It supports and facilitates initiatives to work towards a culture of inclusivity in medicine and medical education. The landscape of advocacy is changing rapidly, and a dedicated queer health interest group is necessary to advance such advocacy work at local and national levels. We wanted a space where members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and allies have a chance to work together to make medicine a safer and more inclusive space for our colleagues and patients.
The Gender Engagement in Medicine student group – or GEM for short – is committed to providing the medical student body with an intersectional perspective on human health. Our goal is to promote an understanding of the ways in which gender and sexuality can contribute to health inequities, and also to educate and guide medical students so that they are well-equipped to establish future practices that are safe and inclusive of all patients.
Q: What are some initiatives related to 2SLGBTQIA+ health that your groups have been involved with this year?
A: This year qHealth worked with the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Gender and Sexual Diversity to present to interested students a workshop entitled ‘Positive Spaces’. This experience gave medical learners the opportunity to develop their understanding of what a positive space is and to develop strategies for implementing these principles in clinical medicine. This workshop was relevant to learners at all levels of medical school, from pre-clerks practicing inclusive language with SPs to soon-to-be residents looking for skills specific to their patient populations of interest. qHealth was also able to secure funding for pronoun pins for CoM learners in years 1-3.
Furthermore, qHealth continues to be involved with letters of advocacy geared towards developing pronoun best practices in clinical settings and increasing visibility of providers that commit to practicing inclusivity towards 2SLGBTQIA+ people.
GEM held its annual Trans Health Panel on the Trans Day of Visibility. We invited healthcare professionals with experience working with this patient population – including a family doctor, psychiatrist, and pharmacist – as well as folks with lived experience to speak on this panel. They provided us with valuable insights regarding the health needs of trans and gender nonconforming patients, systemic barriers to accessing care, and strategies to foster safe spaces in healthcare.
Q: What were some of the takeaways from the Trans Health Panel this year?
A: We spent a lot of time discussing barriers that transgender and gender non-conforming people face in accessing care. The relative lack of family doctors in the province makes accessing primary care challenging for all patients, and patients from marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by this barrier. It is difficult to find a family doctor at all, let alone one who is affirming, knowledgeable, and well-equipped to support trans patients. Our curriculum doesn’t adequately prepare us to deal with the unique health needs of various underserved groups, including trans folks–healthcare providers must engage in their own learning to be able to provide safe, evidence-based care. Many physicians lack knowledge or experience working with this patient population, so they tend to refer their trans patients to providers with a special interest in queer health. Unfortunately, in Saskatchewan, these healthcare providers are few and far between, and their waitlists are long. As such, trans and gender non-conforming patients face a bottleneck when it comes to being able to see a doctor who can provide them with appropriate healthcare.
Access to certain gender-affirming surgeries is impeded by outdated provincial requirements. In Saskatchewan, a psychiatrist must be one of two healthcare professionals who provide patients with a referral letter for bottom surgery, which is performed in Montreal. This is not in line with (dated, soon-to-be-updated!) guidelines from The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, which only specify the need for a “qualified mental health professional” to be involved. This requirement further exacerbates trans patients’ difficulties in accessing gender-affirming care, especially given our shortage of psychiatrists. Additionally, while the surgery itself is covered, the costs of travel and accommodation aren’t, nor are the costs associated with bringing a support person. Once again, this contributes to health inequity by placing affirming care further out of reach, especially for patients at the intersection of multiple oppressions.
Q: In the spirit of pride, what can we all do going forward to truly make a difference for 2SLGBTQIA+ patients?
A: If you’ve made it to this point in the blog you are already off to a great start! Through our collective experiences as queer students, patients, and allies, we feel that the single change that anyone can make with the biggest impact is to begin educating themselves.
We challenge you to explore the resources available through the USask Library Guide at https://libguides.usask.ca/c.php?g=706788&p=5030005 and to begin conversations with colleagues about how you can contribute to the betterment of care for 2SLGBTQIA+ patients.
If you are a medical student, please consider joining us in a weekly summer book club run by the Canadian Queer Medical Students Association to spend some time discussing 2SLGBTQ+ health and the ways in which current systems can be reimagined to be more effective, safe, and joyful. The book club runs on Thursdays in June and July – you can find more details here https://twitter.com/CQMSA_National/status/1527420113091280919?s=20&t=EmWnGrYNWcwjU4Nli0GeXg
Lastly, join GEM, QHealth, and the 2SLGBTQIA+ Mentorship group in Saskatoon as we walk in this year’s pride parade on June 18th! Last year GEM was able to participate virtually https://youtu.be/Duiy5KCpLlw?t=6097 and this year we look forward to walking together with our CoM family as a tangible representation of our commitment to bettering care for our 2SLGBTQIA+ patients. For more info on the parade please reach out to us at qHealthSK@gmail.com.