Doctors’ attitudes toward lesbians and gays shaped early in medical school

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Attitudes towards lesbians and gay men can be shaped early on in medical training, with early-career doctors expressing less bias towards sexual minorities two years after medical school the more contact and favorable interactions they had with members of the LGBT community during medical school.

Conversely, the more negative views students were exposed to about sexual minorities during medical school the greater the bias they exhibited by the second year of their medical residency, researchers from Yale and Oregon Health & Science University report Aug. 5 in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Sexual minorities report less satisfaction with their health care than heterosexuals,” said Natalie M. Wittlin, a doctoral candidate in the psychology department and lead author of the study. “Hopefully, reductions in physician bias following positive contact with LGBT individuals early in their training will help improve patient satisfaction and even health outcomes.”

The researchers surveyed more than 2,900 medical students across six years, from their first year of medical school to their second year of medical residency. The survey assessed both the level and quality of their contact with LGBT individuals and also whether they had heard or experienced negative comments or actions against sexual minorities. They were also asked questions designed to assess bias.

After six years, students who had more contact and favorable interactions with LGBT individuals scored lower on measures of explicit bias.  Students who had been exposed to “negative role modeling” expressed more bias against sexual minorities.

Wittlin said the findings suggest early exposure to people with different sexual orientations and more vigilance against bias in medical schools could help improve doctor-patient relationships.

Michelle van Ryn of OHSU is senior author of the paper. The work was primarily funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322