The one-day conference exploring the myriad unique LGBTQ+ health issues drew presenters and attendees from across Wisconsin
By Katharine Tyllo
More than 300 healthcare providers, nurses, students and community members attended the School of Nursing’s first annual LGBTQ+ Health Summit on April 4, 2019. The summit aimed to educate current and future providers to provide better care for LGBTQ+ patient populations as well as to inform community members about this population’s unique healthcare needs.
The idea for the summit grew out of the immensely popular 2018 School of Pharmacy LGBTQ Health class. “That class filled right away, so we knew there was interest,” says Mel Freitag, the School of Nursing diversity officer and associate clinical professor who chaired the planning committee.
Freitag says this is not the first conference focusing on the LGBTQ+ population in Wisconsin, but it is the first specifically focused on related health issues for providers, students and patients.
“We want to make sure that we stick to health disparities because there is an issue there with health and I think making sure that we’re still talking about what happens in a clinical setting. Patient populations are not the only LGBTQ-identified people,” Freitag says. “We have a cohort now of LGBTQ-identified nurses who need the support as well with things that they’re experiencing with patients.”
“We want to make sure that we stick to health disparities because there is an issue there with health and I think making sure that we’re still talking about what happens in a clinical setting. Patient populations are not the only LGBTQ-identified people. We have a cohort now of LGBTQ-identified nurses who need the support as well with things that they’re experiencing with patients.”
A Collaborative Effort
The School of Nursing partnered with several local and state agencies as well as UW–Milwaukee, UW–Oshkosh, and UW System to develop and promote the event. The summit featured keynote speaker Jayden L. Thai, a queer, trans-identified, second-generation Vietnamese American psychotherapist, researcher, educator and advocate. The endnote speaker was T. Banks, a Madison-area disability justice and mental wellness advocate, poet and playwright. The day also included a number of kickoff workshops and breakout sessions, which were led by School of Nursing staff, community partners, healthcare professionals, students and researchers.
Nursing students Beth Alleman ’19 and Alex Dudek ’19 were active in the planning process. The two met through PRIDE (Promoting Recognition of Identity, Dignity, and Equality) in Healthcare, a student organization that provides community for LGBTQ+ individuals. As members of the LGBTQ+ community, both thought the summit was important not only to students but also to educators and area clinicians and patients.
“Many of us don’t feel like our curricula have adequately prepared us to provide congruent care for LGBTQ+ patients. This is really disheartening for those of us who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community because we directly feel those implications,” Dudek says.
Alleman is hopeful about the impact of the summit. “Healthcare providers need to know what to do when people put this trust in them, to come out to them,” Alleman says. “There are providers out there that want to do better, but they don’t know how. That’s where educational opportunities like this can provide the opportunity for providers to ask questions and learn more about how to respond to their LGBT patients.”
It Began with a Question
“… a member of the community reached out to me about my research.”
Assistant Professor Kristen Pecanac is the summit’s faculty director. Pecanac became interested in the idea of some kind of programming about LGBTQ health concerns when a social worker in the community inquired about her research on communication at end of life, which can have unique consequences for the LGBTQ+ population. Pecanac eventually connected with Freitag to explore the issue, and their conversations sparked the idea for the summit.
“Personally, I just thought it was important to do because a member of the community reached out to me about my research,” Pecanac says, noting that the question made her realize there was a need and opportunity to bring together presenters, participants and content from throughout the state to explore various LGBTQ+ health issues for patients, families and providers.
Rachel Goldberg of Public Health Madison & Dane County, who moderated panels for advocacy in LGBTQ+ health and intersectional identities in queer health, says the summit filled a void on LGBTQ+ issues.
“This summit provided an excellent space to examine the ways in which our medical care systems are working for or against LGBTQ+ populations, and to collaboratively brainstorm ways to improve access for the state’s LGBTQ+ community,” Goldberg says. “We look forward to helping support this work next year, and to continue advocating for community voice.”
Future LGBTQ+ Summit Plans Include More Statewide Presenters and Attendees
Pecanac received a Baldwin grant to repeat the summit next year. Freitag hopes to build on the success of the first summit and expand programming on the ways race, gender and sexuality overlap and intersect in health education and practice.
“We’re hoping to get even more statewide impact next year because it really does directly impact a provider’s clinical practice that day,” Freitag says. “If they learn about informed consent or they learn about different disparities that are happening within LGBT communities or even use of pronouns, they can take that back to their clinical practice that day.”