Training Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) on LGBT Peace Corps Volunteer Issues

- an interview with Kathleen Jordan MSN, Pre-Service Manager, Office of Medical Services

Last spring we were contacted by Kathleen Jordan from Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services (OMS). She was looking for resources to help her develop and deliver a component for this year’s (2009) Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) Continuing Medical Education (CME) that would provide information and resources to PCMOs about meeting the medical and emotional needs of LGBT PCVs. We provided her with contacts of current and recent LGBT Volunteers. We also developed and distributed an internet-based survey over our listserv. The survey was answered by 45 current PCVs and mostly recent RPCVs who serve or served in countries around the world. We sent the results to Kathleen.

LGBT RPCVs:
What prompted your project to develop a component in the 2009 CME addressing the medical and emotional needs of LGBT Volunteers?

Kathleen Jordan:
Several PCMOs indicated that they would welcome training in this area. Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services always aims to provide training to PCMOs that will assist them in effectively caring for all Peace Corps volunteers and addressing volunteers’ specific needs.

LGBT RPCVs:
Where and when were these training sessions held this year? How many PCMOs attended?

K. J.
Two were held this year: one in Washington DC in July and one in September in Thailand. All Peace Corps PCMOs worldwide attended these sessions.

LGBT RPCVs:
What did you learn from LGBT PCVs and RPCVs that helped you develop your training?

K.J.
We learned that peer-to-peer networks specific to LGBT Volunteers were very helpful and that it is important for LGBT Volunteers to have individuals within the agency to whom they can comfortably discuss the unique challenges they face in service. Returned Volunteers and currently-serving Volunteers can play a key role in this support.

LGBT RPCVs:
Were you able to include any current LGBT PCVs or RPCVs in the training sessions?

K.J.
Yes. Two LGBT RPCV staff attended the CME in Washington and 4 currently-serving LGBT PCVs attended the CME in Thailand. The participants were able to answer questions and facilitate small group work. The PCMOs greatly appreciated their participation and interaction.

LGBT RPCVs:
What kinds of questions did you get from PCMOs during the training?

K.J.
The majority of the questions revolved around how PCMOs could best meet the specific needs of LGBT Volunteers and the most appropriate ways to provide appropriate emotional support.

LGBT RPCVs:
Did the subject of establishing LGBT PCV support groups in countries of service come up? Tell us something about these discussions.

K.J.
Yes – During small group work, PCMO’s from various countries shared their thoughts about the best ways to provide support to LGBT PCVs. One option discussed was to utilize peer-to-peer networks to provide an accessible PCV support system. Another option discussed was to ensure that all Trainees were provided adequate private time to meet and speak with staff members about any confidential concerns and circumstances.

LGBT RPCVs:
Homosexuality is seen differently in countries around the world where Peace Corps serves. Some countries like Thailand, South Africa and some Latin American countries are more accepting and protect the rights of LGBT people. In other countries, particularly in Africa, homosexual acts are criminal offenses and homophobia is strong. What sort of discussions came up about these issues?

K.J.
Our discussions focused on how best to keep PCVs and Trainees safe. The PCMOs appreciated having a chance to openly talk about the specific circumstances in their countries and that the fact that they represent an important link between HQ in Washington, DC, the Volunteer and the new community in which the Volunteer will live. The PCMOs appreciated the opportunity to discuss the circumstances unique to their individual countries and best practices for effective LGBT PCV support.

LGBT RPCVs:
What sort of response did you get from the PCMOs after the training?

K.J.
They were very appreciative and they rated the session very highly.

LGBT RPCVs:
What are the plans to continue this training and maybe add to it?

K.J.
We hope to include it in the Medical Officer Staff Training that newly-hired PCMOs receive each year and are considering other ways to include it in the future.

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