LGBT Health Student Symposium recognizes Chicago innovator

The 2012 LGBT Health Student Symposium held an opening reception at Howard Brown Health Center Friday. The third annual event aimed to share knowledge among medical students from across the country and around the globe.

Houlberg receiving 2012 LGBT Health Achievement Award. Photo: Brynn Cassie West.

University of Chicago School of Medicine, who teamed up with HBHC and Center on Halsted, sponsored the event, which was set to attract around 180 medical professionals for the weekend programming.

Nathan West, who organized the symposium, explained that the event is aimed at medical students primarily in order to establish good practices for caring for LGBT patients early.

“We’re going to be able to give training to nursing and medical students that’s only sometimes available,” West said. “You usually need to travel to lean about it.”

The reception was also the opportunity to surprise Dr. Magda Houlberg, the chief medical officer at Howard Brown, with this year’s LGBT Health Achievement Award. Houlberg was visibly moved by the surprise award and responded to her anointment as an innovative voice for LGBT people.

“We need to break beyond the walls of Howard Brown Health Center in order to educate,” said Houlberg.

Houlberg went on to explain that the Chicago clinic has seen patients from 40 states because their clinical needs are not met in their area or come from far away to avoid social stigma.

Social stigmas exists around LGBT categories of medicine, often placing them as specialized categories and not as primary care. Issues such as HIV and hormone therapy should not be “specialized” and instead need to be seen as part of general primary care, according to Houlberg.

Through the use of technology, Houlberg hopes break down the stigma and expand the clinic’s reach outside of a centralized location to meet the needs of the community.

When someone is seen walking into an LGBT clinic assumptions may be made about them and those assumptions often carry a heavy weight of social stigma, according to Houlberg.

Seventy percent of HBHC patients are LGBT identified. Many others come to HBHC because they may have other markers of social stigma, such as many tattoos or piercings, and may prefer the non-judgmental environment of Howard Brown.

Establishing a non-judgmental environment in health care services is part of a larger goal of focusing on harm reduction as a medical model. Substance use support groups at HBHC focus on the patient’s goals of management, even if this does not include complete cessation.

On a broader scale, the symposium allows for medical students to compare not only medical models but LGBT community services across the board. Local LGBT organizations such as the AIDS Legal Council, Soy Quien Soy, and Center on Halsted were invited to participate.

The reception opened with a “differential diagnostic challenge,” which provided students with clues about fictional patients that they would follow around the room and interact with those various organizations and learn about what services they offer and their mission.

An overview orientation of Chicago’s LGBT support network is an example of the kind of experiential knowledge sharing the symposium hopes to accomplish.

The evening winded down with a poetry slam featuring Marty McConnell and Robert Brown.

McConnell prefaced some of her more explicit poems, such as one about female ejaculation, with jabs to the medical students that they should be comfortable with bodily functions.

Brown used the background of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series to evoke delightful yet powerful parallels to racial discrimination and coming of age as a gay individual.