UI Clinic focuses on helping LGBTQ patients


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At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, members of a long-ostracized community are finding a safe space, the UI LGBTQ Clinic.

As the only service of its kind in Iowa, the clinic — founded in 2012 — has experienced a boom in clientele that can mean long waiting lists for patients.

“All of our spots are being occupied,” said Nicole Nisly, a UI clinical professor of internal medicine and the founder of the clinic. “We’re definitely not idle. Patients are booking months in advance.”

This schedule, she said, can be attributed to the comprehensive nature of the LGBTQ Clinic’s services.

In addition to medical services, the clinic also provides legal advice through a partnership with the UI College of Law, as well as a family counseling and emotional support. The UI created the clinic to help LGBTQ patients work through all aspects of their medical needs.

“We wanted to create a place in which people feel welcome and in which all providers are trained to give care of the highest quality and held to the highest standards,” Nisly said. “We thought the best thing to do was to create a specialized clinic.”

She was inspired to start the practice after hearing from transgender students at the university about difficult it was to find providers who made them feel comfortable.

“They just felt really unwelcome, and I thought that we really needed to do something about that,” she said.

Since October 2012, the clinic has served more than 250 transgender patients, as well as others who identify with the LGBTQ community, though those numbers are not recorded, Nisly said.

“The transgender patients were one of the main reasons we created the clinic,” she said.

It is this dedication to the LGBTQ community that sets the clinic apart, said Avi Deol, a program coordinator for Iowa National Education for Women Leadership at the Women’s Resource and Action Center.

“The practitioners who are there have done a lot of intentional work to make sure that their staff are knowledgeable,” Deol said. “They’ve put a lot of work into building those connections [with nonmedical groups].”

In addition to being the only LGBTQ-specialized clinic in the state, Nisly said, the clinic’s focus on education and outreach also sets it apart.

All of the clinic’s staff have completed LGBTQ cultural training, and she said partners of the clinic are taught about the specific issues these patients may face.

“One of our missions is that this shouldn’t be limited to what we do here,” she said. “We provide education to other departments, including legal services, pharmacy staff, and med students with the goal that in the future we may not need a special clinic, and that all providers will be educated and comfortable working with all patients.”

The clinic has a lot of collaboration in the works, with WRAC starting a support group for transgender individuals and their allies last week called Transverse, Deol said.

“I think collaboration can only make the work stronger,” she said. “People are coming from all over the state looking for nonmedical care as well.”

The far-reaching effects of the clinic have resulted in an overwhelmingly positive response from the transgender community in particular, Deol said, and she has heard great feedback from those she works with.

Driven by a passionate staff with a drive to learn, the clinic is changing the way Iowa’s LGBTQ community has access to medical care, said Nancy Dole, a staff nurse at the clinic.

“I consider myself privileged to work in this clinic,” she said. “My children are very proud of me. Not everyone gets to say they’re helping patients get the kind of care they haven’t had access to.”

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