The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

LGBT Center -- Victoria Chen, founder of Penn Q&A Credit: Sophia Lee

When most students visit their health care providers, they don’t have to worry about whether all parts of their identities will be considered. But for students in the LGBTQ community, fighting for queer-friendly health care services is a priority.

This past Monday, the newly-formed LGBT Health and Wellness Working Group held its first meeting. The group operates as part of the LGBT Center Advisory Council, which also oversees other working groups focused on development, faculty diversity and student engagement.

First-year medical student Mark Meisarah was driven to create the Health and Wellness Working Group because he saw a number of providers leave Student Health Services whom he knew were LGBTQ-friendly. “I didn’t know who was going to backfill those positions, or who was going to be hired. And as a student who goes there for my health care services, now who do I go to?”

According to information provided by SHS, there are currently three staff members in SHS who identify as LGBTQ — Sallyann Bowman, Daniel Meyer and Executive Director of SHS Giang Nguyen — out of around 40. At the meeting, Nguyen suggested developing easily accessible provider profiles so that students would be able to choose whom they wish to see.

“People who are sexual and gender minorities often have this justifiable concern about medical care and the kind of quality they can get when they go to the doctor,” Nguyen said. “So we’ve tried to be very cognizant of that in what we do here because we don’t want to be ‘that doctor’s office’ that is considered to be unwelcoming or unaffirming.”

At Penn, Nguyen said, SHS has long taken into consideration the diversity of its constituency, striving to make students’ experiences as welcoming and affirming as possible.

“I want to make sure that our LGBTQ students know that this is a place that welcomes them and that really, truly has a mission of providing the best care possible for them,” Nguyen said.

Transgender health coverage is one area in which Penn has been a pioneer among its peer institutions. The University was one of the first schools in the nation to cover gender affirmation surgery in its student health insurance plan and is continuing to work with Aetna Student Health to expand the range of surgeries that are covered. Starting in the 2016-17 academic year, there will no longer be a $50,000 annual cap on insurance benefits for such surgeries.

Despite these advances, SHS has historically faced challenges in having its demands heard by Aetna. “It’s a challenge because if we want Aetna Student Health to make a change, there are certain things they can only change if the entire Aetna company changes,” Nguyen said. “From the company standpoint, we are small potatoes.”

According to Nursing junior and Chair of Lambda Alliance Ian Jeong, who recently met with Nguyen to discuss the queer community’s concerns, Lambda is looking to partner with peer institutions who also use Aetna in order to push for more changes in Aetna’s company policies.

Another project SHS has worked on is the revision of its electronic health record to include fields for students’ preferred names and gender identities. While the technical end has been revised, Jeong questions how SHS can ensure that every provider respects the information found in the electronic health record. “How do we ensure that every clinician and every worker who’s using the [electronic health record] is checking to make sure that when they, for example, call someone in, that they’re using the right name?” he said. “When transgender students are called by the wrong name, they kind of see it as an act of violence or as an act of harassment.”

Jeong has similar concerns regarding the LGBTQ-specific training that SHS provides for its staff, as there is currently no system in place to ensure that every staff member attends the training sessions. “One person could be, by chance, missing all the seminars. We need to check who’s being trained and who is not attending,” he said.

Nguyen also acknowledged the areas for potential improvement. “We’ve done a lot over the years that we can be proud of, but we can’t rest on that,” Nguyen said. “We have to keep moving forward.”

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.