Gender minorities and medicine

Caring for the Spectrum of Difference

Regardless of one’s personal views, attitudes against non-heterosexuals are harmful to health care, both for patients and the profession.

As a nation founded on principles of democracy, freedom and inalienable rights, America remains unsettled in its acceptance of individuals who are not heterosexual – often referred to as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, or LGBTQ. In May, President Barack Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll reported that more than half of Americans say same-sex marriage should be legal. Yet 31 states have passed amendments aimed at banning it.

Teenage gay and lesbian roles are popping up in popular television programs like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Glee.” Yet in April, gay Iowa 14-year-old Kenneth Weishuhn joined the statistic of teens who have committed suicide after being bullied. Even at Des Moines University, where students train for professions focused on caring for all people, anti-LGBTQ actions have occurred.

“I think some of our students, depending on their backgrounds, may struggle with accepting and understanding gay and lesbian individuals,” says Roberta Wattleworth, D.O.’81, M.H.A.’99, M.P.H.’04, FACOFP, FNAOME, professor of family medicine. “But if they don’t think they’ll have gay and lesbian patients, their heads are in the sand.”

The inevitable diversity among patients and the demands of providing high-quality health care require that DMU students feel safe and accepted on campus, on rotations and in residency, and that they also know how to create safe environments as health care professionals.

“Regardless of sexual orientation, race, culture and other factors, we’re all very different in our life experience,” says Jeffrey Means, Ph.D., chair of behavioral medicine at DMU. “It’s important that we teach each student how to relate to and treat each patient as an individual. That’s patient-centered care.”

Scroll to Top