Future doctors learn about caring for gay and lesbian patients

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Saying that the most significant health risk for the gay and lesbian community is avoiding health care, a Harvard professor told students at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine that they need to “do no harm” and maintain a non-judgmental attitude when providing care to gay patients.

Marshall Forstein, M.D., associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Psychiatric Residency Training at the Cambridge Hospital, made his comments before an audience of more than 175 people in his lecture “What every medical student should know about caring for gay and lesbian patients.”

With many in the audience wearing T-shirts that sported “Gay? Fine by me.” the Vanderbilt Medical Center auditorium was filled with medical school students, current physicians, nurses, and other hospital professionals.

“Did you know that 44 percent of men who are gay and go to the doctor do not tell their doctor they are gay,” he asked his audience. “Did you realize that gay men have higher rates of cardiovascular disease?”

Forstein, mixing humor, science and experience, went on to tell the audience that they could best get to know their patients by not making assumptions, and to properly ask them “who in your life is important to you.”

“Questions like that have a purpose,” he said. “Knowing the people that are important in our patient’s lives help us provide better care. By asking it in that manner, you do so in a non-judgmental manner.”

Forstein is legally married (in Mass.) to his partner of 26 years, and they have two adopted children, ages 20 and 31.

The lecture and t-shirt wearing event was organized by Annie Antar, a fourth year school of medicine student; Diana Lemly, a second-year school of medicine student and Andrea Li, a first-year school of medicine student.

Antar, who along with Chirs Kidd, is co-president of the Vanderbilt School of Medicine Gay-Straight Alliance, said she hoped the lecture would help make better physicians.

“The response to the lecture was tremendous,” she said. “This was such a big push for diversity.”