First-of-its-kind LGBT health program at Penn

From the Penn Current

stock_17Neil Fishman, associate professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), has experienced his share of uphill battles when it comes to creating imperative health initiatives. Arriving at Penn in 1988 as an infectious disease fellow, Fishman witnessed medical colleagues encounter significant barriers in developing an HIV/AIDS program that was crucial at a time when health professionals knew very little about the disease.

Fast forward to 2012, when Fishman’s colleague Baligh Yehia, an assistant professor of medicine at HUP, spearheaded the first-of-its-kind Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Health Program at Penn. As faculty adviser for the program, Fishman can now attest: The climate for responding to the needs of underserved communities is thriving at Penn. “It’s such a stark contrast to 25 years ago. There has been an overwhelming response and recognition of the need for the LGBT Health Program,” says Fishman. “I think it’s really a testimony to the people here at Penn, and also to the changing times and attitudes.”

But establishing the program, which launched in July 2013, has just been the first step on the road to provide comprehensive, inclusive health care for members of the LGBT community. The program is comprised of five core focus areas: institutional climate, patient care, community outreach, health education, and research. “LGBT health is increasingly being recognized as an important component of health care as we realize that LGBT individuals have increased disparities in care. Certain health conditions are more common in this population, such as HIV, colorectal cancers, and breast cancer in lesbians,” says Yehia, the program’s director. “We also know they face a lot of discrimination and stigma. Those feelings—as well as unfair or inequitable health care policies—have exaggerated these health disparities.” Coupled with those known disparities, which also include higher incidences of depression and alcohol and tobacco abuse, is the fact that very little data exists on LGBT populations.

Continue reading on the Penn Current online.

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