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GLBT patients absent from med school curricula? What study says

Younger gay and bisexual men may be more at risk for suicide and self harm than older gay and bisexual men. Age, education and money can impact mental health, new survey findings suggest. istockphoto

(CBS) What are medical schools doing to educate doctors-to-be about GLBT patients?

Not much, apparently.

Most med schools in the U.S. devote only five hours of instruction on the health concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients, according to a new study. One-third of the schools offer no such training.

The findings - based on a survey of 176 medical schools and published in the September 7 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association - suggest that doctors may be a bit clueless about the specific health risks faced by members of the GLBT community.

What sorts of risks? For one thing, young GLBT people tend to be especially vulnerable to depression and substance abuse, according to a written statement released by the journal. In addition, research has shown that sexually transmitted infections are more common among men who have sex with men. And lesbian women may be less likely to get appropriate screening for cervical cancer.

Access to care may be another big problem that threatens the health of GLBT patients.

"Every time a patient comes to a new doctor, that individual effectively has to 'come out' again," study author Dr. Mitchell R. Lunn of Harvard University said in the statement. "There is a lot of fear about how that is going to go. The fear of discrimination has pushed some people away from the doctor and some never return."

Dr. Lunn said doctors need to learn to be comfortable asking potentially embarrassing questions and to have a sense of how a patient's sexual identity and sexual behavior can affect his/her mental and physical health.

The study comes six months after an Institute of Medicine report that called on researchers to do a better job of including GLBT people in medical studies. The chairman of the committee that issued the report -  Dr. Robert Graham, professor of family medicine and public health sciences at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine - said in a written statement, "It's easy to assume that because we are all humans, gender, race, or other characteristics of study participants shouldn't matter in health research, but they certainly do."

The CDC has more on GLBT health.

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