UK MedPride: Promoting Inclusivity, Addressing Needs of LGBTQ+ Community at College of Medicine

When Blake Herald began his journey at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, he sensed there was something missing, something that would ensure a more inclusive environment for him and his fellow medical students. A collaboration with his peers and University leadership led to a solution.

As of fall 2019, UK MedPride is an officially registered, student-run organization with nearly 30 members that aims to increase awareness of the needs and concerns of LGBTQ+ patients while providing resources for LGBTQ+ medical students, researchers, faculty, and staff. The organization marks an important step in building on the College of Medicine’s continued efforts to promote a diverse and inclusive environment.

Since the group was established, President Herald, Vice President Merry Krueger, Secretary Thomas Amburn, and Social Outreach Coordinator Rachel Cox have worked diligently to maintain its momentum. The officers coordinated several events in the organization’s first few months to offer social opportunities for LGBTQ+ students and allies, including participation in Lexington’s first Pride Run 5K, involvement in the College of Medicine’s organization fair, and the hosting of speaker sessions with members of the local LGBTQ+ community.

But for the organization to reach its goals, officers also want to mix in more education on LGBTQ+ issues with the educational opportunities already offered in the College of Medicine’s curriculum.

“Let’s not wait until we see our first LGBTQ+ patient as a physician,” Herald said. “We want medical students to develop an understanding of how to best treat LGBTQ+ patients by the time they complete medical school.”

Keisa Fallin-Bennett, MD, associate professor in the department of family and community medicine, serves as faculty advisor for UK MedPride, and as a UK HealthCare physician, she can attest to the benefits of learning this information in the early stages of medical school. She said those who are more well-informed on this type of care are more likely to use correct pronouns and names for transgender spectrum patients, and they are more equipped to provide proper, specialized treatment. Health care professionals, she said, don’t need to be part of the LGBTQ+ community to understand best practices; it just requires an open mind and a willingness to meet these patients where they are.

Dr. Fallin-Bennett, a UK College of Medicine graduate, remembers health care being much more challenging for LGBTQ+ medical students and patients when she attended medical school in the 2000s. She is thankful to see that the environment is much more inclusive today, but there’s always room for improvement, which is why she finds UK MedPride to be a necessity. 

“I think just having a group like this is helpful, particularly when prospective students are looking at where to come to medical school,” she said. “When you see that it has an LGBTQ+ group, that’s huge for students looking for inclusivity. That’s really important.”

Doing her part to help health care progress, Dr. Fallin-Bennett helped lead the formation of UK’s Transform Health Clinic, where she currently serves as director. For three years and counting, the clinic has provided a safe, welcoming place for LGBTQ+ specialized care and education.

UK MedPride officers strive to build on these initiatives from University leadership and work to guarantee a well-rounded medical school experience that includes in-depth discussions of LGBTQ+ patient-centered care and research.

“It makes you a better health care professional when you gain exposure to these topics that are not always talked about,” Cox said.

UK MedPride is a student-focused group that is open to all College of Medicine learners and graduate students, whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community or allies. Faculty and staff members are encouraged to get involved as well. UK MedPride is a chapter of the Medical Student Pride Alliance (MSPA), which connects the group to the national medical student LGBTQ+ community. 

For upcoming events and meetings, or for more information, the group can be reached through email at medpride@uky.edu or on its Facebook page.