Alberta medical students explore LGBTQ health issues

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Alberta medical students explore LGBTQ health issues

The wait for gender reassignment surgery was one of the topics discussed Saturday by a group of medical students at a conference focusing on health issues faced by members of the LGBTQ community in Alberta. 

"If a trans person wants to get bottom surgery, so genital reassignment... there's only one surgeon in Canada who does that through public funding, and that's in Montreal," said Derek Fehr who helped organize the conference in Edmonton. "So patients in Alberta have to fly there and I believe the waiting list is two years or more."

A referral from a psychologist is also needed before getting the surgery, and that can also involve a year or more on a wait list, Fehr added.

A group of University of Alberta medical students started the inclusive health conference four years ago after noticing something was missing from their academic agenda.

"We initially started it because we felt that our medical school curriculum didn't really address any of these issue that we felt were super key to addressing these health disparities," said Fehr.

"So it started four years ago and it's grown since then and we have lots of faculty support. And it's led to curriculum changes as well."

Marci Bowers, a California-based doctor who was a pioneer in gender reassignment surgeries, was the keynote speaker at the conference.

She said Canada needs more surgeons and better education to catch up to the United States.

"I would estimate there might be a need for two, to as many as 10, or maybe more surgeons doing the genital surgeries alone," she said.

Fehr hopes events like this conference will spark changes in education and awareness about LGBTQ needs.

"I really hope that everyone coming here today, whether they are a physician, nurse, or social worker, really learn some skills on how to treat the individual in front of them as an individual, and ask questions," Fehr said.

The university's faculty of medicine has been responsive to adjusting the curriculum since the first inclusive conference four years ago, Fehr noted.