Fort Worth Medical Students Lead ‘Out For Health’ Conference

TCU School of Medicine students host conference focusing on patient care of the LGBTQIA+ community. Admiral Rachel L. Levine, 17th Assistant Secretary for Health at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gave the opening remarks.

By Prescotte Stokes III

Photo Credit: Prescotte Stokes III

FORT WORTH – TCU School of Medicine students hosted the 9th annual Out For Health Conference, which focused on patient care of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“It feels kind of like an historic moment,” Matthew Pagano, second-year medical student and incoming president of PRIDE Alliance Student Interest Group at TCU School of Medicine said. “We were able to come together and build this huge project.”

The conference was put together by the PRIDE Alliance Student Interest Group in partnership with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the School of Medicine. The conference was supported by Out For Health, a non-profit organization, and DeeJay Johannessen, Chief Executive Officer of the Health Education Learning Project at Help Center for LGBT Health and Wellness of North Texas.

The featured speakers for the event were Admiral Rachel L. Levine, 17th Assistant Secretary for Health at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dr. John Paul Sanchez, Executive Associate Vice Chancellor Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Professor of Emergency Medicine at University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center; and Monique Gary, DO, FACS, Breast Surgical Oncologist and Medical Director of the Grand View Health/ Penn Cancer Network and assistant visiting professor at TCU School of Medicine.

Having so many influential leaders from the medical community be a part of the conference and impart their knowledge on 100-plus medical students and current medical professionals is a huge deal, according to Lisa McBride, Ph.D., associate dean of Diversity & Inclusion at TCU School of Medicine.

“Being a new medical school and having someone of Admiral Levine’s caliber come and talk to future physicians and medical professionals is a big deal,” McBride said. “Also having leaders in health care from New Mexico, Pennsylvania and all across the country come to Fort Worth to talk to youth in the LGBTQIA+ community and future physicians show how committed we are as a medical school to making sure our students understand that health care should be equitable for all people.”

In 2021, Admiral Levine was nominated by U.S. President Joe Biden to serve as the nation’s highest ranking openly transgender official.

“The medical students have done a fantastic job organizing this conference,” Admiral Levine said. “It is so important that medical students are emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion for this conference. I know how hard it is to put on a conference and they are doing a fantastic job.”

Admiral Levine, who is a graduate of Harvard College and Tulane University School of Medicine, completed her training in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City. As a physician, she focused on the intersection between mental and physical health, treating children, adolescents, and young adults.

At the conference, Admiral Levine emphasized the importance of health equity among all groups.

“Health equity is critically important. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the depth and breadth of the health disparities that we have in our nation,” Admiral Levine said. “Specifically, health disparities for the African American community for the Latino community and for the American Indian/Native American Alaskan community and other communities as well including the LGBTQI+ community. I think it’s really important for medical students to learn about these issues in school it will inform their roles as physicians.”

Out for Health is a medical conference founded and organized by students across all Texas health science centers to address the needs of the LGBTQIA+ population. Each year a different Texas health science center hosts the conference.

This year’s theme is “If You Only Knew My Story,” and focused on the impact of individual experiences, inclusive communication between patients and providers, and legal policies that directly target LGBTQIA+ patient safety. The conference offered CME, CNE, and CEU credits for medical students and medical professionals in attendance.

“There is so much power behind a story,” Pagano said. “I think if we take a moment and really learn from everyone’s experience, we’re able to get a well-rounded view of medicine and the world around us.”

The theme was inspired by the emphasis on Narrative Medicine, which is a part of the Compassionate Practice® curriculum at the School of Medicine that is an innovative and new approach to medical education. The Compassionate Practice® team works to empower medical students and professionals to foster authentic connections with themselves and others by incorporating reflection and compassion into a lifelong practice.

“That’s what we want our attendees to learn from this is that there is always something new you can learn from your patients,” Vandana Garg, third-year medical student at TCU School of School said. “Everybody has their own unique story and own unique background.”

The Compassionate Practice® uses an interdisciplinary, research-based approach to understand the complexities of compassion in medicine through the lens of art, theater, journalism, narrative medicine, and population health. The goal of narrative medicine is to share one’s own story, reflect on past experiences, and broaden one’s perspective by learning from peers.

Patient stories are important for physicians to take into account and understand, Admiral Levine added.

“It’s very important that medical students develop empathy and compassion for the people they are caring for,” Admiral Levine said. “I think that humanism is also important and Narrative Medicine is a fantastic way to learn that humanism in medicine concept.”

The conference was divided into block sessions that focused on mental health, Transgender sexual health workshops, Texas Law and how health care professionals can support transgender children and their parents.

The School of Medicine psychiatry student interest group led one of the sessions on mental health.

“They taught a session on LGBTQ-centric psychological issues,” Pagano said.

Interspersed between the block sessions were 50-minute remarks from Dr. Gary, serving as this year’s Distinguished Speaker, and Dr. Sanchez serving as the Keynote Speaker. Dr. Gary, who is a board-certified and fellowship trained Breast Surgical Oncologist, shared with the attendees some insight into her experience as a member of the LGBTQ community during her remarks.

“I get to highlight all of my intersections and how I’ve been able to bring all of those together to craft a life that I love,” Dr. Gary said. “I get to share my story with students that I know will be able to relate to it and show them that the distance between there and here is not great.”

Creating a pathway to practicing medicine in a way that you desire can be achieved, Dr. Gary added.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done to improve the face of medicine for the community and those who provide it,” Dr. Gary said. “There is hope.”

Dr. John Paul Sanchez, who has more than 25 years of diversity and inclusion related work and is nationally recognized for pioneering pre-faculty development, served as the keynote speaker for the conference.

He spoke about how the LGBTQI+ community has been an invisible community in the exam room and in textbooks throughout history.

“It’s really critical that as we have these conversations that we speak with and across the generations to understand the experiences the LGBTQI+ community has had,” Dr. Sanchez said.

He shared his own experiences as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and navigating his identity growing up as a man of color in the Bronx, New York.

“I had the painful experience of seeing HIV/AIDS ravage not only the Bronx but also my family and friends,” said Dr. Sanchez. “This conference serves as a brave space for us to share but also listen to each other and think about where we need to go in the future.”