Inaugural Q-Med conference generates enthusiasm and a capacity crowd

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Gender- and sexual-minority students in the health care professions from Yale and far beyond gathered at the School of Medicine March 30 and 31 for the first annual Q-Med conference, a meeting organized to address the role of leadership in the LGBTQI+ health care community. “We come from everywhere, and we are everywhere,” said John Encandela, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and co-chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council on LGBTQI+ (DAC) in his introductory remarks to a capacity audience in the Anlyan Center.

DAC, which was formed in 2016, conceived of Q-Med as it sought ways “to do something that hadn’t been done before, potentially on a national or international scale,” says Andrea Barbieri, MD, assistant professor of pathology and a co-chair of DAC along with Ecandela and third-year medical student Michael Solotke, YC ’13. The co-chairs, along with other members of DAC, organized the conference.

Barbieri points out that while there are other national conferences for the LGBTQI+ community in health care, such as the GLMA Annual Conference and the LGBT Health Workforce Conference, those conferences focus more on health equity and health disparity issues. “We wanted to have a little bit of a different angle,” Barbieri says.

DAC decided to engage students at health care professional schools, as well as undergraduates who are interested in going into health care, and “provide them with an opportunity not only to learn about health disparities within our community, and the importance of advocacy, but also to provide them with general leadership skills, which are not always addressed or emphasized within health care,” Barbieri says.

“I think there are some unique challenges related to being LGBTQI+ in the workplace and being an LGBTQI+ leader. It’s well documented that LGBTQI+ people face discrimination in the medical workplace,” says Solotke. This discrimination, he says, includes witnessing or experiencing derogatory remarks, being socially ostracized, the denial of promotion based on sexual orientation, and denied referrals. “It’s pervasive, it’s national, and it’s longstanding.”

Becoming siloed is also a concern. “People who are LGBTQI+ get advanced into leadership positions to address the health of people who are LGBTQI+, and we wanted to make sure that the conference addressed the possibilities of people becoming leaders in many other ways as well,” says Encandela. Topics discussed at conference workshops included improving communication skills, curriculum building, self-care, and how to address discriminatory behavior in the workplace.

Registration for the conference exceeded the group’s expectations, with students coming to New Haven from around the United States as well as Canada, and as far away as Brazil. “The fact that we had such widespread and large participation to me speaks to the previous absence of this type of conference, and how important and desired it is by students,” says Solotke. By the organizers’ count, more than 170 people attended the conference, completely filling the hall.  “We decided early that there was not going to be a registration fee,” says Encandela, which enabled a broader scope of attendees to travel to the conference. “We are really thankful to Dean [Robert J.] Alpern, [MD], who allowed us the funding to be able to do that, because many people wouldn’t have been able to come if there had been a fee.”

In recent years, Yale has been making strides toward addressing diversity, says Encandela, pointing to the hiring of Deputy Dean Darin Latimore, MD, as the first-ever chief diversity officer at the medical school. “To a large extent, it is because Darin is in that position that the conference became possible,” he says. “It was his interest and passion for this that was part of the catalyst as well.” Latimore, who arrived at Yale in 2017, engaged the gathered group on Saturday in a lively discussion of what it means to be a leader, and the challenges that LGBTQI+ students and professionals face in doing so.

The conference culminated in a keynote speech by Zena Sharman, a Canadian writer and LGBTQI+ health advocate who, in her talk on “queering leadership,” engaged the audience to reflect on, and discuss amongst themselves, their understanding of leadership. “To queer leadership is to transform our state of being and possibilities as leaders and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” she told the gathered group. “It is to resist assimilation and reproducing the status quo in favor of building something more nurturing and liberatory.”

Throughout the conference, says Barbieri, “the word that was repeatedly uttered is joy. The expressions of joy from the attendees is something that I felt was a gift to witness.”

Local community groups also participated in the conference and welcomed attendees to New Haven at a Saturday night pop-up drag show, hosted by the New Haven Pride Center, at Te Amo Tequila, a queer-owned eatery downtown. Throughout the weekend, attendees were encouraged to share their feelings about the first-ever Q-Med through social media, with one attendee writing, “This weekend was one of the happiest times in my life.” Another attendee wrote, “I have never felt so welcome and felt like I belonged to a group.”

This article was submitted by Robert Forman on April 24, 2019.