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Pioneering LGBTI researcher provides insight into health needs of sexual minority women


Watch Tonda Hughes’ presentation

When Tonda Hughes, PhD, RN, FAAN, began researching lesbian health in the early 1990s, her advisors were skeptical and discouraging. They were concerned that she wouldn’t get her papers published or be offered tenure.

Tonda Hughes giving lectureShe conducted the research anyway. Her determination panned out: she’s now a top researcher of sexual minority women’s (lesbian and bisexual women) health and conducts the world’s longest longitudinal study on the health of that population, particularly in regard to alcohol use and mental health.

Hughes spoke on “From Gay Bars to Marriage Equality: Building a Program of Research Focused on a Stigmatized and Marginalized Population,” on Monday, Jan. 13, as part of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Dean’s Diversity Lecture series.

“Sexual minority women have unique health care needs and face health disparities, including discrimination, that contribute to lack of care,” said Linda D. Norman, DSN, FAAN, VUSN Dean and the Valere Potter Menefee Professor of Nursing. “Our goal is to educate our students on those needs and teach them how to provide inclusive and sensitive, supportive care.”

Hughes’ presentation included a historic overview of research with LGBTQI populations and how she began working in that area, as well as the challenges of conducting research with sexual minority women. She also presented findings from her research that can help providers offer culturally competent care and discuss topics relevant to their patients’ health.

“We’ve come a long way from what we knew when we collected our research samples from women in gay bars, but we still have a long way to go,” Hughes said. “I think there are lots of things you could do to improve the health of this population.”

The Associate Dean for Global Health Research and Henrik H. Bendixen Professor of International Nursing at Columbia University School of Nursing, Hughes also works on international collaborations and research on LGBTQI health. Her work has included more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and other scholarly papers. She has presented nationally and internationally, and has served as a consultant to many U.S. federal agencies and institutes and international researchers.

She is a member of the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, American Academy of Nursing and University of Kentucky College of Nursing Hall of Fame.

Watch Tonda Hughes’ presentation