Q+A: Kristen Eckstrand, Ph.D.

From the Winter 2015 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Photo by Daniel Dubois
Photo by Daniel Dubois

Kristen Eckstrand, Ph.D., a 2015 MD candidate, is the founder and co-director of the Vanderbilt Program for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) Health. She is also chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Advisory Committee on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Sex Development. She recently co-edited and co-authored a groundbreaking national guide, “Implementing Curricular and Institutional Climate Changes to Improve Health Care for Individuals Who are LGBT, Gender Nonconforming, or Born with DSD: A Resource for Medical Educators.”

 

Q: How will the AAMC guide be used in medical education?

A: Individuals who identify as L,G,B or T have an increased risk of suicide and depression and higher rates of obesity, smoking and alcohol use and cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. These are believed to be due to the cumulative stresses and discrimination that they face in society. There are other disparities related to behavior that are often erroneously associated with, but don’t necessarily depend on having an LGBT identity, like HIV/AIDS. The publication will be used to assist academic health centers in modifying and assessing existing curricula to be inclusive and responsive to individual patient’s needs around sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex development.

 

Q: What is the role of academic medical centers in addressing LGBT health?

A: Nationally there are numerous health care organizations improving the health of LGBT individuals by increasing awareness and research around the health disparities in these communities. Vanderbilt is ahead of the curve. Vanderbilt revised its patient-centered policies to be equitable for LGBT individuals (that includes nondiscrimination and visitation policies) and in 2012 established the Program for LGBTI Health as a resource for students, faculty and patients to provide both information and connect with supportive providers. LGBT health needs to be an institution-wide priority which can include ensuring that all providers are competent in providing sensitive care to LGBT individuals.

 

Q: Can you talk a little about what influenced your career interests?

A: I identify as a gender noncomforming, gay female. In middle and high school, I experienced bias and discrimination as a result of my sexual orientation and gender expression. I was diagnosed with depression and there were periods where I felt like ending my life. The one thing that continually made me feel I had a life worth living was my family. Through their support I realized how important it is for all people to feel like they are unique, exceptional individuals regardless of what their identity may be. It’s what led me into medicine. I think doctors have a very unique position to promote resilience among patients, particularly among child and adolescent patients.