Health equity in motion with Dr. Brittany Charlton

Through conversations with Point32Health colleagues, our Health Equity in Motion series shines a light on health inequities happening within our communities and across the United States, as well as ways that we’re aiming to advance health equity for our members.

Dr. Brittany Charlton is a Harvard Medical School associate professor of population medicine at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute (a part of Point32Health) and associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is also the founding director of the LGBTQ Health Center of Excellence.

We recently connected with Dr. Charlton to discuss her LGBTQ health research and the opening of the new LGBTQ Health Center of Excellence:

Q: As a researcher, could you share more about your role and areas of focus?

Dr. Brittany Charlton: I came to the Harvard T.H. Chan School 15 years ago, largely because of the pioneering work that faculty like Bryn Austin had done to establish the field of LGBTQ health research.

One in ten people in the U.S. are LGBTQ, and this population will grow as that number is twice as high among young people. LGBTQ people experience widespread discrimination resulting in adverse physical and mental health.

Public health is key to addressing these inequities, but the field lacks the infrastructure to prepare learners to have the necessary skills to protect the health of this marginalized population and to be leaders in the field.

The field has rapidly expanded in the last 15 years, including with the National Institutes of Health establishing a research office focused on LGBTQ health and designating LGBTQ people as a health disparities population. In that time, I also finished my training and began my faculty role at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute. Today, one in four Harvard students identifies as LGBTQ, and more trainees than ever want the requisite training to become public health and medical leaders in this burgeoning field. To help support this growing field, I lead several mentoring initiatives, particularly for underrepresented minorities.

Other areas of focus for my research are LGBTQ health inequities, particularly in cancer and reproductive health, as well as contraception use and family planning among people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Q: Is there anything you’re working on now that you’re able to share more about?

BC: While there’s a lot of excitement going on, one area I’m especially excited to highlight is the recent launch of the LGBTQ Health Center of Excellence, which is a first-of-its-kind partnership between Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.

The mission of the LGBTQ Health Center of Excellence is to advance health equity for LGBTQ communities. Working with partners across Harvard and around the world, we focus on training to prepare the next generation of LGBTQ health leaders, research to expand the evidence base of LGBTQ health and dissemination to inform policymakers, health care providers and the larger public about how to improve LGBTQ health most effectively.

In the short-term, our training activities include awarding tuition scholarships for students focused on LGBTQ health, designing new student courses on LGBTQ health research methodology, as well as awarding field practice projects, community-engaged service projects, and innovation projects related to LGBTQ health. Our short-term research activities include awarding pilot grants for LGBTQ health research and awarding conference stipends to attend LGBTQ-related professional meetings. Around dissemination, we will host public events (e.g., monthly seminar series), teach people to communicate LGBTQ health research to diverse audiences (e.g., writing op-eds and policy briefs) and create an annual award recognizing students, staff, and faculty conducting LGBTQ-related work at Harvard Chan School.

Q: What is one goal or hope you have for the Center when it comes to advancing health equity?

BC: Using the best resources from Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, we can ensure that everyone—regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity—has the chance to live a long and healthy life.

Q: When it comes to social determinants of health, what is the most common one you come across in your research that impacts a person’s health or ability to access health care?

BC: In the twenty years that I have been doing this work, the field of LGBTQ health research has transformed from one focused primarily on HIV/AIDS to one that focuses on diverse LGBTQ communities impacted by a range of health inequities. It is profoundly meaningful to me as a queer woman to help build this center to be a diverse, inclusive, and equitable home for LGBTQ health work. We will train the next generation of leaders to not only document that inequities exist but also to design interventions and advocate for policy changes that tangibly improve the lives of LGBTQ people.

Learn more from Dr. Charlton about the LGBTQ Center of Excellence:

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