New interdisciplinary class at Montana State to investigate health care needs of LGBTQ+ community

By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — A new class at Montana State University aims to give students studying nutrition and health care firsthand experience working with people from other disciplines to help solve a common problem while researching the health care needs of the LGBTQ+ community.

Colleen McMilin, assistant professor in the College of Education, Health and Human DevelopmentSally Moyce, assistant professor in the College of Nursing, and community partner Cami Armijo-Grover at Bridgercare will lead the work, which is supported by a $5,000 grant from the MSU campus of the Montana University System Institute for Interprofessional Education.

McMilin said new approaches to health care education are needed to help emerging health care professionals develop the skills and values to work effectively on cross-disciplinary teams.

“One of the emerging approaches is interprofessional education in the undergraduate years to foster future collaborations, and a research experience is an ideal mode of providing a common goal among students of different professions,” she said.

Moyce noted that the LGBTQ+ community often faces barriers in health care, such as discriminatory practices during their health care visits, and so some individuals may delay care or decline treatment options. Moyce added that students in the medical professions rarely receive specific training on how to deliver care to the LGBTQ+ community.

“Providing a health care environment to support and affirm members of the LGBTQ+ community would break down barriers faced by this population when in need of potentially lifesaving support,” Moyce said.

During the fall semester class, undergraduates in nursing, dietetics and nutrition science will work together to research how health care providers can create a more supportive environment to improve access to, and delivery of, health care for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Students will interview community members and then collaborate to analyze their data and share their findings with other student researchers and Bridgercare.

In addition, the students will complete what is known as LGBTQ+ affirming health care training, which McMilin said aims to reduce barriers to health care access to improve long-term physical and mental health outcomes for the LGBTQ+ population. With collaboration from local medical providers and members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, Bridgercare developed the training and has delivered it over the last year to groups in Bozeman and across Montana.

McMilin anticipates that students will share their findings at MSU’s annual Diversity Symposium next spring.

The work is important for several reasons, Moyce said. First, students will gain valuable understanding of the professional training their peers get in separate, but related, disciplines. Second, she said students will learn together about the research process, while gaining perspective on an often-underserved community.

“We hope that students will come away with a better understanding of each other, the others’ profession, and about caring for vulnerable patients,” she said.

In addition, the training and the research conducted should help provide a better health care environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We hope this work will help break down barriers faced by this population,” Moyce said. “The lack of knowledge of LGBTQ+ care needs to be addressed for an affirming health care experience to be accessible to this vulnerable population, and students in dietetics and nursing are well-poised for being at the forefront of implementing inclusive health care practices in the community.”

Alison Harmon, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Development, said she is glad to see faculty participating in interprofessional education for the purpose of improving health care. 

“Students learning to work together will develop into collaborative professionals,” Harmon said. “Addressing discriminatory practices and resulting health disparities will require much teamwork over a long term. This is an important and timely research, teaching and engagement endeavor.”   

Sarah Shannon, dean of the MSU College of Nursing, called Moyce and McMilin’s proposal innovative.

“Providing top notch health care requires that interprofessional teams work together to deliver collaborative care,” Shannon said. “But to teach health profession students how to do this takes engaged learning. This class will teach students how to be good team members while simultaneously teaching them how to better meet the health needs of their LGBTQ+ patients. It’s a win-win.” 

McMilin and Moyce will use the outcomes of this fall’s work to tweak the class for future students. The plan is to offer the class each year, focusing on a different research question each time.

McMilin said she hopes the work will provide a model for successfully structuring interprofessional education in the health sciences.

“There are many potential barriers to successful completion of (interprofessional education), and we’re hoping to find innovative ways to work within the system so that our students have a positive experience,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to build interdisciplinary teams of future health professionals that will carry into health care practices.”