Heading down the right path toward LGBT health equality

rainbow-path.jpg~originalIt is no secret that LGBTQ topics are almost nonexistent in nursing school curricula. Although there is limited data to back up this claim, one recent study found that nursing students are exposed to approximately two hours of instruction related to LGBTQ health (Lim, Johnson, & Eliason, 2015). There are many reasons for the scarcity of LGBTQ content in curricula, such as no mandates from the accrediting bodies, lack of LGBTQ content in textbooks, and lack of knowledge and awareness among nursing faculty.

After co-authoring the above referenced article with Drs. Lim and Eliason, I was feeling pretty dismal about the lack of LGBT topics in nursing school curriculum. But something else happened… I started becoming more perceptive of the LGBT work that was happening around me. For example, a heterosexual cisgender colleague of mine who worked in a neighboring institution had developed a simulation scenario that allowed nursing students to practice caring for a transgender patient. That same colleague also approached her university’s provost to champion for the inclusion of LGBT topics throughout the nursing school’s undergraduate curriculum. Her request was successful and received a small grant to test the new content. Just after learning about the work of my colleague, I heard that a group of senior-level BSN students at my own institution was spearheading a project to increase LGBT knowledge among their student peers. They developed a 13-minute video titled, “LGBTQ Communication and Cultural Awareness for Nursing Students.” They got permission from an instructor to show the video to 35 junior-level nursing students. They administered a pre- and post-test to the students and found that the video was markedly effective at improving knowledge about LGBT health. I am now at a new institution and have already identified work being done by colleagues and students to improve LGBT health.

Over the past four years, I have taken undergraduate nursing students to work with the most vulnerable communities, such as the homeless, refugees from war torn countries, and veterans battling mental illness and addiction. I always told my students to look for the positives in the communities. Even though I have preached the “half glass full” attitude to my students, I tend to forget to do that in my own work. Moreover, like many other people in academia and health care, I spend so much time working in my “silo” that I forget to look at the great things people are doing around me. I am learning that if I take a walk outside the confines of my office and listen to what other people are doing, I am pleasantly surprised by the work others are doing to improve LGBT health. It reminds me that we are collectively heading down the right path!

About Michael Johnson, PhD, RN

I study health promotion and risk reduction among vulnerable populations, with a particular emphasis on LGBTQ populations.
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8 Responses to Heading down the right path toward LGBT health equality

  1. estherccrn@aol.com says:

    How can I get this video? Esther S Cohen MSN RN CCRN University of Southernmost Florida Coral Gables, FL

  2. Thomas Lawrence Long says:

    My hunch is that there is very little in the nursing (or medicine) curriculum related to gender and sexuality.

  3. Calvin Moorley says:

    I really like the idea of the gender simulation I’m taking this to my Faculty team

  4. Simulation is indeed one way to integrate aspects of non-normative gender identities and sexual orientations into nursing curricula, which have historically been largely invisible. In my experience working in the area of LGBTQ health, both as a nurse educator and researcher, there are further opportunities we can explore in addition to simulation: Case studies, clinical placements, workshops, and films in the area of LGBTQ health can easily be integrated into any nursing course, independent of the substantive area. Insofar as the LGBTQ health runs across all populations, communities and health trajectories, it can be aligned with any course in any nursing curricula. In fact, this is what I have recently proposed in our current curricula. Having recently piloted a clinical placement in LGBTQ community health nursing with great success, it is clear that more integrative and consistent education in LGBTQ health is necessary throughout the program to advance student knowledge regarding issues related to health equity, social justice and advocacy, if future nurses are to be politicized and understand car provision with respect to LGBTQ communities living in largely heteronormative environments. With our current University wide initiatives focusing on diversity and inclusion, it is an optimal time to advocate for more comprehensive LGBTQ education within the School of Nursing. It is my hope that it will be achieved through some of the work I currently do with like minded colleagues and scholars! If you are interested in some of my work, feel free to visit my latest research website at the following link:
    http://lgbtqbirthing.weebly.com

    • Lisa, thank you for sharing the wonderful work you are doing! My husband and I recently went through the process of open adoption. We were at the bedside of our son’s birth mom right after she gave birth and then spent a few days in the hospital with our baby boy. Although it was a happy time in our life, we also felt very isolated and “lost.” It opened my eyes to how health care systems don’t know how to work with queer couples during the birthing process or newborn adoptions. I really look forward to reading the results of your study.

      • Michael, thank you as well for sharing the experience of your birth with your husband and your son’s birth mother. On the one hand, it is thrilling to know that you have both had the wonderful experience of becoming parents to your son, and on the other, as you point out, it was also “isolating and left you both feeling “lost.” Given the research I have done to date, I suspect your situation rather challenged providers, as you were both outside the normative birthing narrative; one that is perhaps the most challenged with historical systems of heteronormativity. I am particularly fond of the words of Sara Ahmed, who defines the heterosexual couple as a “social gift.” Falling outside of heterosexuality, as your narrative did, disrupts the prescribed socio-cultural privileging of heterosexuality associated with pregnancy, birthing, and family. While providers, and nurses in particular, are committed to caring practices, and as our research has shown, attempt to provide non-discriminatory care, the reality is that they are rarely educated to understand how to cultivate equitable care: that which accounts for social difference and social history that enables nurses to understand treating everyone the same is not a form of equitable care, but rather reinstates discriminatory patterns of oppression, particularly when working with members of marginalized communities, like those who are LGBTQ. It remains my hope, however, that through continued research and education future practices will afford all birthing persons inclusive, non-discriminatory and equitable care.

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