Health care providers must take the initiative to educate themselves about the cultures and distinct health needs of the diverse populations they serve, says Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston PhD student Aaron Loeb, MSN, MBA, RN-BC. His research focuses on building cultural competence to care for LGBTQ populations, a very diverse group in and of itself.
“My interest is in making processes better for health outcomes, and mainly I think that is through education, professional development, and engagement,” Loeb said.
His experience in health care began in high school, when he volunteered in the occupational therapy department of a hospital for some 350 hours. Loeb began learning health care skills with U.S. Army medical clinic training while stationed in South Korea. Upon discharge, he worked as a home health assistant and earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He also holds master’s degrees in business administration and nursing education from Texas Woman’s University in Houston.
Loeb is the lead author of a paper recently published in Geriatric Nursing titled “Coping and healthcare utilization in LGBTQ older adults: A systematic review.” The paper summarizes research on the coping techniques that aging LGBTQ patients employ to counter real or anticipated discrimination, and how those mechanisms can affect access to and efficacy of health care.
“I have certainly experienced discrimination and stigma in health care as a patient and working as a nurse,” Loeb said. “I didn’t realize I was being treated differently than others until I started this research. I thought it was normal, but I knew it wasn’t comfortable.”
Older LGBTQ patients have witnessed historic events from the onset of the AIDS epidemic to marriage equality, yet many fear disclosure of their sexual or gender identity – even to health providers. On the other side of the equation, providers are often unaware of specific health care needs related to sexual practices or gender identity.
Loeb, who is board certified in nursing professional development, has served in several related roles at Houston-area organizations, including Texas Children’s Hospital. He ultimately would like to consult with organizations to develop customized programs to help systemically improve cultural humility and competence.
However, Loeb stresses health care providers’ responsibility to actively seek out opportunities to develop their own knowledge of the diverse groups they serve, regardless of whether those differences are based on race, gender, ethnicity, or other factors.
As a health care provider, it’s really on me to understand more about culturally diverse populations, and in my case, I’m choosing LGBTQ,” Loeb said. “It’s not like we are learning about some rare disease that you are never going to see. This potentially impacts anyone coming in the door at any moment.”
Loeb credits Cizik School of Nursing faculty members with helping him gain the perspective and skills needed to tackle such a broad and complex avenue of research. Professor Diane Wardell, PhD, WHNP-BC, and Associate Dean for Research Constance Johnson, PhD, MS, RN, FAAN, co-authored the Geriatric Nursing paper.
“Dr. Johnson is my academic advisor, and she has been instrumental in helping me learn how to narrow a topic to make it researchable,” Loeb said. “I think this is an intriguing journey, and I think if it weren’t for the Cizik School of Nursing’s PhD program, I really wouldn’t understand how to piece together this information on the analytical level.”