LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program Recognized for Impact

2019 GLMA Achievement Award marks the program’s contributions to improved health outcomes for the LGBTQ community.

 Stephen Forssell, founding director of the LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program
Stephen Forssell, founding director of the LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program, speaks at the GLMA Annual Conference on LGBTQ Health. (Courtesy Stephen Forssell/GLMA)
October 07, 2019

By Ruth Steinhardt

The George Washington University’s LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program received a GLMA Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality Achievement Award this September in recognition of its significant contributions to improving health outcomes for LGBTQ individuals.

“We’re so honored that our professional colleagues recognize that the work we’re doing is important,” said Stephen Forssell, the program’s founding director. “It feels terrific.”

The 18-credit graduate certificate, housed since 2013 in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, aims to help improve the quality of health care offered to the LGBT population. To that end, it enrolls students from across the disciplines, including public health, public policy, mental health, social work, nursing and medical science. Some are professional health care workers, advocates or activists, while others are students concurrently enrolled in other programs at GW or elsewhere.

“We have social workers, clinical psychiatrists, school counselors, public health people, nurses, activists—all people who are dealing with health, broadly defined, and all in professional environments where they have one-on-one contact with members of the LGBT community who need care,” Dr. Forssell said.

The program’s hybrid format—mostly online classes, with two weeklong campus residency periods—makes it accessible to a variety of potential enrollees.

“The model had to be able to include students outside Washington, D.C., and even around the world, but we didn’t want to be just online either, because having face-to-face relationships with faculty and colleagues we thought was very important,” Dr. Forssell said. “Since we’re also interested in changing policy, with D.C. being the center of federal policy on health, we wanted students to have that experience of coming here. We go to Capitol Hill, we meet with policymakers and members of Congress, and we give them policy input and ask for commitments.”

Students are required to complete a capstone project resulting in a concrete product or outcome for an existing community setting. Many of the projects have been implemented on a wider scale or published in academic journals, Dr. Forssell said.

One student, Timothy DeVita, used his capstone to work with faculty and student groups at the medical school to which he’d been admitted, working to redesign students’ preclinical training to be more adherent to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ standards for LGBT cultural competency. The project was slightly more ambitious than a single capstone could accommodate, since updating those curricula required lengthy approval processes from medical students and faculty at the school. But Dr. Forssell said Mr. DeVita recently received confirmation that the content he had created for the preclinical curriculum was approved and would be implemented—at the very school where he is now a medical student.

“We have so many students that make us feel good about the future of this work,” Dr. Forssell said. “We think outside the box here, and that’s encouraged.”

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