7 minutes reading time (1438 words)

Increasing Medical Student Confidence When Treating LGBTQIA+ Patients With Cherry Au, MD

Following the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago, Cherry Au, MD, of Rush University Medical Center, spoke with Oncology Data Advisor to discuss her abstract, Medical Student Clinical Cultural Awareness in Cancer Care of Sexual and Gender Minorities.  

Oncology Data Advisor: Welcome to Oncology Data Advisor, I am Lyn Brook. Today I am joined by Cherry Au, Resident Physician at Rush University Medical Center. Recently at ASCO, she presented her abstract about medical student readiness for treating sexual and gender minority patients with confidence and comfortability.

Would you like to begin with introducing yourself and telling us a bit about your interests and what you study?

Cherry Au, MD: Yeah. My name is Cherry Au. I'm currently a Postgraduate Year 2 (PGY2) in internal medicine at Rush University Medical Center. I went to medical school at Jefferson. I am mostly interested in oncology, and specifically, health disparities within the field, and general disparities research as well.

Oncology Data Advisor: Could you explain to us your study on medical student clinical cultural awareness in cancer care of sexual and gender minorities?

Dr. Au: Our study was formed when I was a medical student and noticed that there were some gaps in the education that I was receiving as I interacted with more and more people in the clinical setting. One of the gaps was in the care for sexual and gender minorities, and basically, we took this idea and formed this survey study to investigate medical student attitudes and knowledge regarding sexual and gender minorities (SGM) cancer care specifically, to figure out areas of possible intervention.

Oncology Data Advisor: What were the results that you found in your study?

Dr. Au: Our survey showed that students had overall positive attitudes towards SGM patients. They were really comfortable and willing to take care of these patients, but from the survey, we did find that students were not as confident in terms of knowledge on SGM-specific health issues. In our knowledge items that we had in the survey, we asked students about certain risk factors or cancer screening guidelines, and it did reveal that there were considerable knowledge gaps between what they knew going into the survey. This revealed areas of possible intervention for the medical school curriculum. One of the interesting things that we did find was that students became more confident in their knowledge of SGM health issues as they progressed through medical school. This confers that students may get more experience or exposure in patient care, and as they continue to learn about medicine, they become more confident. So, this lends to the point that if we give students lectures, more knowledge, before they go into patient care, then they would be more confident in their care as well.

Oncology Data Advisor: Do you think there's anything else you could propose for medical students, or even current health care faculty, to better gain that confidence and comfortability?

Dr. Au: I think that this is a really great thing to reflect on. We know that the medical system and medical education generally caters towards a lens focused on the heterosexual and cisgender patient, and then the specific health needs and considerations of groups that fall outside of those lenses are typically where we see health disparities. So, the main thing is trying to address these disparities in a more upstream manner. We need the students who will be future providers to be aware of certain health needs for the SGM patient, and that might not be taught currently in the medical education system. So, it's really identifying the nuanced knowledge that they need to be good at patient care, and then implementing that and intervening in that while they're getting educated in med school, just so they're at least aware of the certain specific things that SGM patients may need. 

The main thing is trying to address these disparities in a more upstream manner. We need the students who will be future providers to be aware of certain health needs for the SGM patient, and that might not be taught currently in the medical education system.

It's really important for all of the students and even providers now to be really aware of their own biases and knowledge gaps that they have. I know that I definitely have a lot of knowledge gaps still when it comes to these groups. So, it's being open to confronting them as well, and working towards being a better provider. It's been a really great pleasure to be able to work with all of the people on this project, and it's been a really big collaborative effort from multiple institutions to do this. I'm hoping that this is a big shift towards more equitable care and changing the landscape of medicine too.

Oncology Data Advisor: Exactly. I'm curious, did you find any difficulty when sending out the survey, or acquiring the data after they had filled out their surveys and stuff?

Dr. Au: We did have a really good plan of attack when sending out these surveys and getting the data for this research, so we had a group of medical students who are pretty dedicated and passionate about the topic help distribute the survey, a point person in every single class. We did find some good support from the administration at the medical school that it was sent out in. We had the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee board send it out to the entire student body, and then just did a multimodal attack on getting the survey out. So, a lot of student organizations sent it to their Listserv, incorporating the survey into class-wide lectures and trainings prior to clinical rotations as well, and just sending it out via any means of communication for all the classes. It's difficult getting certain med students to want to do something voluntarily sometimes, since they're already so busy, but it's an important topic. We found that there was a pretty good response to it. Everyone seemed willing to fill this out, because the research can ultimately impact medical education in a positive manner. I think everyone was on board with that too.

Oncology Data Advisor: So, the last question I'll ask you is, for anyone reading your abstract from ASCO, or for anyone interested—the medical students or even current health care providers—what advice would you give them to address their comfortability and confidence in treating SGM patients?

Dr. Au: Yeah, I think what I spoke on earlier about identifying our own biases and knowledge gaps is really important, and just really continuing education on this and knowing where the resources are and being an open and empathetic provider to all patients—especially our SGM patients as well, since we know traditionally in the history of medicine, they might have not had the greatest care. There are some really great resources on building gender-appropriate language as a provider to our patients by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) and the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center. Then just continuing what we can do on the individual level, while also trying to lobby and gain support for the more systemic changes in education and in programming as well.

Oncology Data Advisor: Awesome. Well, that was all the questions that I had for you. Is there anything else you would like to add for viewers to know?

Dr. Au: No, but it's been a pleasure talking to you.

Oncology Data Advisor: You too. Thank you again. Thank you so much for your time, and for your research and everything, and I hope you have a great weekend.

Dr. Au: All right. Thank you.

About Dr. Au

Cherry Au, MD, is an Internal Medicine Resident Physician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. She has interest in researching and eliminating health disparities within cancer care and intends to pursue a career in oncology/hematology after her residency at Rush University Medical Center. Additionally, Dr. Au currently holds an active national leadership position in the American Medical Women's Association.

For More Information

Au C, Samuelson A, Schabath MB & Mitchell EP (2022). Medical student clinical cultural awareness in cancer care of sexual and gender minorities. J Clin Oncol, 40(suppl_16):11003. DOI:10.1200/JCO.2022.40.16_suppl.11003

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) (2022). Available at: https://www.glma.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=534

National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center (2022). Available at: https://www.lgbtqiahealtheducation.org/resources/

Transcript edited for clarity. Any views expressed above are the speaker's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Oncology Data Advisor. 


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