Challenging Bias in Health Care Before It Begins

Wednesday, Jun 15, 2022

portrait Michael Holmes

In honor of Pride Month, UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation (CONHI) is proud to have faculty that seeks to improve health-related issues impacting the LGBTQIA+ community. Faculty across CONHI are working to improve health outcomes for this community by supporting and educating students on important LGBTQIA+ topics. 

Over the past few years Michael Holmes, clinical assistant professor in the undergraduate nursing department, felt the ever-growing need to address the disadvantages that the BIPOC and Queer communities experience. He aimed to see what differences he could make in his role to shed light on the systems that have continually disadvantaged and threatened the lives of these underrepresented populations.

Holmes, supported by the undergraduate nursing department, spearheaded changes to CONHI’s curriculum which have been incorporated since 2021. These changes include expanding lectures on sexual health with an emphasis on caring for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Another difference is that now on the first day of class, there are discussions related to implicit and explicit biases and how they impact patient care and patient outcomes. To ensure that this is not a one-time discussion, Holmes has also partnered with the UTA Office of Multi-cultural Affairs to discuss biases, microaggressions, and stereotypes before the students enter the clinical setting. Preferred pronouns have also been introduced into Smart Lab simulations to help acclimatize students to asking their patients this information and respecting the patient's preferences. 

“Medical literature shows that racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other prejudices contribute to social determinants of health,” Holmes shares. “Even though the data is clear, health care has done an abysmal job discussing or acting on the systems that allow these forms of hate to perpetuate.”

Holmes noted that overt racism and microaggressions are common occurrences for both patients and health care workers, but current health profession students are not taught how to deal with them. Now, with the new curriculum, he hopes CONHI is better equipping students to handle these situations. “I hope that by introducing and discussing these issues with junior semester student nurses, they will incorporate inclusive care into their patient care early in their career, which will spill over into advocacy and changing health care as a whole,” said Holmes.

In addition, Holmes and Katie McLean, clinical assistant professor in the undergraduate nursing department, are in the preliminary stages of working to bring back the LGBTQIA+ student nurse association, which disbanded due to the COVID pandemic. “There will be a change to the previous incarnations,” shares Holmes. “Mx. McLean suggested moving beyond nursing students and including CONHI's public health and kinesiology departments as well. This will be a CONHI student organization instead of just a student nurse organization. The intent is to bring as many health care LGBTQIA+ students and advocates together to create change for our college and hopefully for health care.”

There will be a survey going out to CONHI students in the fall to gauge interest in the student organization. “As an advisor I would like to see a focus on community education of LGBTQIA+ equity and inclusion in the health care setting as well as sexual health education,” shares Holmes. “We also want to give LGBTQIA+ CONHI students the opportunity to be seen and heard which will provide the necessary skills to be advocates for their future patients and communities.” 

CONHI students have positively received these changes and discussion. “We continue to move forward because people's lives are at stake. An LGBTQIA+ person should not have to contemplate being a victim of bias when seeking health care,” shares Holmes.

– Written by Amanda Wenzel, Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications