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U of T student seeks to improve LGBTQ education among pharmacists

Sarah Bento-De Sousa, a student at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, recently presented a resolution focused on improving pharmacists' LGBTQ education at the Ontario Pharmacists Association's annual general meeting (photo by Steve Southon)

A fourth-year student at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy presented a resolution to improve pharmacists’ LGBTQ education – which was passed – at a recent annual general meeting of the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA).

The resolution by Sarah Bento-De Sousa, titled “A Commitment to the Health of LGBTQ Ontarians,” aims to provide guidance to pharmacists about assisting patients who are part of LGBTQ community.

Bento-De Sousa says the resolution intends to boost LGBTQ knowledge given that many patients who are part of the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people, may have complex health-care needs.

“There’s still some homophobia and transphobia associated with the health-care system, as well as misinformation and a lack of knowledge among health-care practitioners,” says Bento-De Sousa.

“As a patient, you need to trust your doctor or pharmacist, and you have to hope that you don’t get a change in care based on what they think about you.”

Bento-De Sousa has been involved in extracurricular activities related to LGBTQ health since she started the faculty’s Doctor of Pharmacy program. That includes leadership roles in PharmaPride, a student-run group that organizes cultural events and education about LGBTQ issues to increase awareness among students and faculty.

Earlier this year, the OPA sent out its call for resolutions for its annual general meeting and Bento-De Sousa says it seemed like a good opportunity to bring more attention to the issue. She and Michael Reynen, a former president of PharmaPride, worked on the resolution. Then, with support from Jen Baker, the chair of the OPA’s Board of Directors, Bento-De Sousa spoke at the annual general meeting in June about the rationale behind it.

The resolution successfully passed.

With the annual general meeting being a part of a large national conference, the resolution got attention from attendees from across the country.

“I felt the effects of it throughout the conference,” Bento-De Sousa says. “There was a lot of interest from conference attendees, and it was really gratifying that people wanted to hear more about it.”

It takes a lot of courage for a student to bring relevant issues forward to large professional organizations, according to Jamie Kellar, acting director of the Doctor of Pharmacy program.

“I look forward to engaging Sarah in conversations to learn how she thinks our curriculum could be expanded to include more LGBTQ focused learning,” says Kellar. 

“This is a priority area for the program moving forward and we welcome input from engaged students.”

While Bento-De Sousa has another year of studies to complete and she isn’t sure of her career plans yet, she does hope to do more policy work in the future.

 “I’m interested in bringing up issues I see and trying to make a difference in the way we provide care to our patients,” she says.