Student leadership matters at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (JHUSON), where a student-led initiative has resulted in a change in the curriculum. This October, the school’s baccalaureate curriculum committee unanimously passed a proposal to address the health disparities affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) population.
“Sexual identity is still a touchy issue in our society, entrenched in social and religious norms,” notes senior Marcella Leath who helped spearhead the curriculum change. “Of all disciplines, healthcare professionals should be most accepting of people and aware of the potential issues that arise from sexual diversity.”
When Leath and fellow students completed their health assessment class, they noticed the lack of LGBT topics and information, and had some specific ideas about how such information could improve patient care.
As a first step, Leath–along with Amy Hoffmann, Danielle Miller, and Bethany Roth–brought a resolution to this year’s National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) Annual Convention in April with the encouragement of NSNA faculty advisor Rosemary Mortimer, MEd, RN. They proposed that the NSNA support LGBT education in nursing school curricula as a means to improve health disparities and the cultural competence of professional nurses. The resolution was passed with 66 percent of the vote.
In the fall, as the news media were reporting on “Dont Ask, Dont Tell” and the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a gay student at Rutgers University, the students brought some specific recommendations to the baccalaureate curriculum committee. They suggested that nursing students learn about the gender spectrum, the need to ask how a patient identifies their gender, the barriers to care affecting LGBT individuals, and the needs of same sex couples and families navigating the legal problems affecting their access to supportive healthcare. Their proposal was adopted with a unanimous vote from the committee.
“Nurses can be in a pivotal position to improve care for LGBT patients, especially in school and college settings,” notes Sarah (Jodi) Shaefer, PhD, RN, who heads the baccalaureate curriculum committee. “We want to produce nurses who will be effective with patients from all populations.”