Building Health Knowledge for the LGBTQ Community

Medical students to break down barriers for sexual minorities by hosting the Inclusive Health Conference

By Ross Neitz

Inclusive Health Conference poster image
Inclusive Health Conference poster image

The field of medicine contains a wealth of knowledge that grows larger by the day. But despite constant gains, several gaps remain. Among them is a need for greater understanding of the health issues affecting sexual minorities. It’s an issue a group of medical students from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry hope to address at a health conference aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) patients and the health professionals who treat them.

“A recent study found that medical schools across Canada and the U.S. devote an average of only four hours to topics related to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered health over their four year curricula,” says Ian Armstrong, a third-year medical student and conference co-coordinator. “There’s a gap there, a deficit. You can see that when you look at health disparities. LGBTQ people are often less likely to access cancer screening, more likely to smoke and have higher rates of other substance use.”

The student-led, one-day conference, “Inclusive Health: An LGBTQ Health Care Primer”, will be held Feb. 28 at the Matrix Hotel in downtown Edmonton. The event features nine speakers addressing topics ranging from sexually transmitted infections to hormone therapy for transgender adolescents to the importance of health professionals creating an inclusive practice so LGBTQ patients can feel comfortable talking about their concerns.

“I think at times doctors are uncomfortable dealing with LGBTQ patients,” says Jocelyn Andruko, a second-year medical student and co-coordinator of the conference. “Not because they’re uncomfortable with them as people, but because they don’t have the educational background to really know what questions are important to ask and what things are important to consider about their patients.

“So having this kind of exposure in an educational setting and that background of knowledge can go a really long way in them being comfortable with their patients, and patients seeing that their doctors really want to help them.”

This year’s event marks the second year of the Inclusive Health Conference. With the inaugural event proving an overwhelming success, this past year the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry provided a $100,000 grant to help student leaders grow the conference and continue it years into the future.

“The very unexpected gesture of financial support was encouraging and exciting,” says Armstrong.

Andruko adds, “I think we were all pretty floored.”

Richard Fedorak, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, says the funding is already proving a worthwhile investment.

“As physicians we are expected to provide knowledgeable care for all of our patients, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Being part of this important initiative helps our health-care community to provide a better and more understanding level care for our LGBTQ patients and their families. It is a partnership recognizing both diversity and health excellence and one we look forward to continuing well into the future.”

The Inclusive Health conference is being held on Feb. 28 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Matrix Hotel in downtown Edmonton. Ticket and speaker information can be found online at

Source University of Alberta