When Kent Carter was looking for a medical school to continue his studies, one of the factors he considered was how diverse his future campus might be.
“When I applied, I made sure to include my past involvement in LGBT activities in my applications,” said Carter, a second year medical student at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. “At some schools where I interviewed, when I got to that part of the interview, their entire demeanor toward me changed. They became very negative toward me. I made the decision when I applied that I don’t want to be at a place where it was going to be an issue. When I came here, there were no issues and that made me feel more positive about coming here.”
The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso created an Office of Diversity Affairs three years ago led by Jessica Calderón-Mora and Mayra Morales and recently launched the Safe Zone LGBT Allies training.
“Safe Zone training is something that’s done in various undergrad and graduate school campuses around the country,” said Calderón-Mora, senior director of the Office of Diversity Affairs. “We started a Gay and Straight Campus Alliance in 2012 and that was initiated by our office and current third-year medical students. They came on to campus and saw a need for this type of group.”
The Safe Zone program was created to develop, enhance and maintain environments in workplaces, schools and other social settings that are culturally competent and supportive to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) individuals.
“It’s about creating a welcoming, inclusive environment for gays, lesbians, bisexual or transgender individuals rather they be patients or colleagues,” Calderón-Mora said. “It’s about increasing the capacity to address the issues faced by the LGBT population and to train allies, individuals who serve as advocates on campus.”
Since the Safe Zone program began in September, more than 170 medical and nursing students, faculty, residents and staff have been through the training.
“After the training, we provide all of our health care professional a rainbow pin so they can wear on their white coats to show that the are LGBT friendly,” Calderón-Mora said. “We also give them placards and students place them on their lockers and physicians put them on their office door so we are seen more around campus so the LGBT population can see that we are an open campus.”
Calderón-Mora said she does not have statistic on how many LGBT individuals are on campus.
Carter, who grew up in Liberty, Texas, and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, is one of six Safe Zone trainers.
“There was a need for trainers so I guess I did it out of a sense of idealistic duty,” he said. “I’m here and somebody needed to step up and do this so I was honored to be asked to participate.”
Carter, who has lived in El Paso for two years, said having these open discussions about the LGBT community creates a better understanding between health care provider and patients,
“In terms of training colleagues, we are all in medical school or nursing school and we’re going to be health care professionals,” he said. “A lot of the times physicians have a difficult time discussing sex in general. And when it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender issues, it’s even more uncomfortable for them.”
Patrick O’Malley, a second year medical student, is also a certified Safe Zone trainer.
“One of the main points we want to get across is our LGBT patients have specific health needs,” O’Malley said. “This is also a group of patients who might have been unjustly discriminated against in health care previously. There are a lot of studies that show LGBT patients have experienced discrimination to varying extents. We want to address that and make sure we are treating our LGBT patients as they wish to be treated and we are using the correct language that they wish to be addressed with.”
O’Malley, who graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, said having a better understanding of what LGBT patients will provide health care professionals a glimpse of what life is like for them and the daily struggles they endure.
“One of the first things is to acknowledge that there has been a problem in the past,” he said. “This hasn’t always been dealt with sensitively. If we acknowledge there is an issue, we can make inroads to be more sensitive to these patients and care for them better.”
Carter said he is glad Safe Zone training is making a difference.
“Society is changing quite a bit but obviously it’s still in transition, especially in Texas so it was great to have this here and we continue to build on it,” he said. “There was no tolerance where I lived and that made it a very difficult experience for me. I think that’s another reason I felt drawn to do this because of my own personal experience. It was very difficult for me growing up so it means a lot for me to be part of this change.”
What: Safe Zone LGBT Allies training. The Safe Zone program was created to develop, enhance and maintain environments in workplaces, schools and other social settings that are culturally competent and supportive to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) individuals.
Who: The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso created an Office of Diversity Affairs three years ago and recently launched the Safe Zone program.
Info.: 215-4806 or elpaso.ttuhsc.edu/fostersom/diversity.