Research

Meet Our Newest Cohort of STARs

By Nikki FriasMarch 14, 2018

Joanne Rolls (right) and Richard Backman (left) of the University of Utah.

A team of researchers studying transgender health curricula has been selected to receive this year’s STAR award.

PAEA is pleased to announce that Joanne Rolls, MPAS, PA-C, research team lead and an assistant clinical professor at the University of Utah, has been chosen as the 2018 Support to Advance Research (STAR) Program award recipient.

The STAR Program offers PA researchers a unique opportunity to feature their own survey questions in the annual PAEA Program Survey, which every PAEA member program director is required to complete. Each year, STAR winners receive de-identified data from their survey questions at the close of the Program Survey.

As this year’s recipient, Rolls’ survey questions on the topic of Assessing Curricular Approaches to Transgender Health will be included in the 2018 survey.

John Davis
Tim Wood

Rolls will be joined in her research by co-investigators Tim J. Wood, DHSc, PA-C, assistant professor at Western University of Health Sciences; Richard Backman, MD, assistant professor at the University of Utah; and John Davis, PhD, MD, associate professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

In a brief interview with Rolls and her team, we were able to learn more about their study, how it may benefit PA education and research, and tips for PA faculty interested in applying in the future.

What are the objectives of your research and the anticipated impacts on the field of PA education?

The purpose of our survey questions is to determine how and to what extent transgender health is formally delivered in the curricula at PA programs in the United States, including what the perceived value of this content is and what barriers exist to implementation. We anticipate that this study will illustrate the current state of transgender health education being delivered to PA students, and this work will create an opportunity to develop and disseminate best practices for teaching PA students how to care for this gender minority.

What inspired your interest in researching the topic of PA school curriculum on transgender health, and why is the assessment of curricular approaches to transgender health important right now?

I personally became interested in this topic when I started caring for transgender patients in my clinical work as a family medicine PA. I discovered this wonderful population of patients who were suffering disproportionate health care and health access disparities, and I learned, on the job, how to care for them. I am a founding member of the University of Utah Transgender Health Program, which seeks to improve access, transparency, and resources and improve care for transgender patients in the Intermountain West. My colleagues and I are often called upon to help train other providers on providing gender-affirming care to transgender patients, and students are calling for this training.

I don’t know if people are aware, but 1.4 million people in the US, or 0.6 percent of the population, identify as transgender. This is one in every 150 people, and this number is very likely under-reported. This population suffers higher rates of many medical and mental health conditions, which of course matters, but I think one of the most concerning statistics is that close to 50 percent of transgender patients reported in a large 2010 survey that they had to teach their provider how to care for them. With such a large part of our patient population reporting that providers don’t know how to provide medical care to them, and with the increased visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming patients in the last several years, I think this is a critical time to assess curricular approaches to transgender health in both PA curricula as well as — hopefully as my next step — in MD training as well.

How will your research benefit from your being selected as this year’s STAR Program awardee?

Our team is so grateful that we have been selected as this year’s STAR Program awardee. The opportunity to be included on such an extensive survey with such high return rates will really generate the most accurate data that we could hope to gather. Our work will additionally benefit from the extensive program information that is collected, as we can explore the correlation between our results and much more complex program demographic data.

Do you have any suggestions for PA faculty who may be considering applying for this grant opportunity?

Our greatest recommendation would be to follow a systematic process of developing your research. Consistently seek out feedback at every step of the way, for instance, in writing and re-writing your research question and hypothesis and having others review your literature search. Be open to making changes and applying feedback, establish great rapport with mentors, and work on an excellent team. Jo and John are both students in the Master of Education for Health Professionals degree program at Johns Hopkins University. Their coursework around educational scholarship as well as receiving high-quality feedback from faculty and co-students outside of our specific disciplines is invaluable.

Congratulations to Joanne, Tim, Richard, and John! And special thanks to the Grants & Scholarship Review Committee for their hard work during the review and selection process.

Nikki Frias

Dominique (Nikki) Frias is PAEA's research assistant. She graduated in 2016 from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in psychology.