Bridging the Gap in Nursing Care of SGM Patients: National Nursing LGBTQ Health Summit

By Tamara Thomas - Last Updated: December 22, 2022

Several studies show that sexual gender minorities (SGMs) have a higher rate of health problems such as depression, substance abuse, suicide, and cardiovascular disease than heterosexuals. The National Nursing LGBTQ Health Summit was held to address these disparities.

The summit, held from November 21 to 22, 2019, at Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City, drew approximately eighty participants. This summit brought together deans of nursing schools/colleges, nursing organization leaders, and SGM health experts from 33 organizations, schools, or colleges.

The summit was held to expedite the nursing profession’s progress in addressing SGM health issues in education, research, and practice and lay the groundwork for an actionable plan for the future.

Participants at this summit agreed that one reason for the growing disparities between SGMs and heterosexuals is a lack of nursing education that instructs nursing students on how to care for SGM people effectively.

“The absence of knowledge and pedagogical and/or andragogical expertise regarding SGM health, nurses entering practice will continue to be inadequately prepared to care for SGM people,” the authors wrote.

Negative attitudes of students and staff, prejudices and biases regarding SGM individuals, stereotyped beliefs, cisgenderism, and acceptance of the current heteronormative norms and policies all contribute to the difficulty of adequately incorporating SGM-related knowledge into nursing practice.

Another factor contributing to the growing disparity in nursing care between SGM and heterosexuals is a lack of SGM-specific continuing education for practicing nurses and other healthcare providers.

A lack of research data to support nursing practice in caring for SGM people, according to the studies, has made it difficult to understand the health experiences of large segments of the SGM population, as well as how social and political realities have affected SGM health in the past and in the present. One reason for the dearth of SGM nursing research is the limited federal funding for this type of research. Furthermore, research suggests that nurses may be more biased toward SGM people than other healthcare professionals, which may exacerbate the disparities in nursing care.

“Nurses often do not understand how sexual orientation and gender identity impact access to and outcomes of care, and thus, in an attempt to be unbiased, choose to “treat all patients the same” rather than provide person-centered care that is culturally sensitive and responsive to the unique needs of SGM people,” the authors wrote.

To bridge the gap in nursing education, it was recommended that content about SGM health be included in nursing curricula. They further suggested that setting standards for how to include SGM content in nursing programs and continuing education will ensure that best practices are used to teach SGM health.

The authors also recommended collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data in electronic health records and national and population-based surveys to understand health disparities better. Furthermore, efforts need to be made to increase funding for SGM research.

According to the National League for Nursing, “nursing education, research, and practice must move beyond frameworks and perspectives that focus on deficits to those, such as social determinants of health (SDH), that situate SGM-related health disparities within larger socio-political and cultural contexts.”

Finally, SGM community members were recommended to be included in the research process to ensure that research questions are based on real-world community needs and that issues of power and privilege are acknowledged and addressed.

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