HOP Faculty Receives FACCA Grant to Improve Communications between Oncologists and Sexual and Gender Minorities

Amanda Hicks, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Health Outcomes & Policy (HOP), is co-principle investigator of a pilot grant from the Florida Academic Cancer Center Alliance (FACCA) to improve communications between oncologists and patients who identify as sexual and gender minorities.

The alliance awards grants for a wide variety of cancer-related studies by researchers located at one or more of the three partnering institutions: the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami in Miami, and the University of Florida Health Cancer Center in Gainesville. FACCA awarded a total of five pilot grants in 2017.

Hicks’ site co-principal investigator is Merry Jennifer Markham, M.D., a clinical oncologist at the UF Health Davis Cancer Center and associate professor in the division of hematology and oncology in the UF College of Medicine. The team will develop a web-based series of learning modules and videos to improve oncologists’ cultural competency and communication skills with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) patients. Other co-PIs on the team are Gwendolyn Quinn, Ph.D., an associate member, and Matthew Schabath, Ph.D., an assistant member of the Moffitt Cancer Center, and Julia Seay, Ph.D., research assistant professor of medicine at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In their research abstract, the collaborators pointed out that sexual and gender minorities face significant cancer health disparities, including an increased risk for developing and dying from cancer due to risk factors such as high rates of tobacco use, obesity, and poorer uptake of cancer screening, as well as interpersonal factors such as stigma and discrimination encountered in the health care system.

The idea for the project arose after surveys conducted by the collaborative team suggested that overall, oncology care providers are not confident in their knowledge about the unique health needs of SGM populations and would welcome education to improve their communication skills with these patients.

Hicks will work closely with an instructional designer to develop quality course content that reflects the current literature on providing care to sexual and gender minorities in clinical settings. She is also working with a team of pediatric clinicians at the UF Gender Youth Clinic to determine the information needs of pediatric clinicians providing care to transgender youth and how to best capture this information in electronic health records.

“Through research projects like these, I hope to help address health disparities in the LGBTQ community by creating an infrastructure and culture in health clinics that acknowledges the presence of LGBTQ people in our community and their unique health needs,” Hicks said.

The researchers plan to test the online curriculum with oncologists at each of the three partnering research sites and use the test results to develop a large, randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum. If the curriculum as an intervention proves effective, the team will expand the program to oncology allied health professionals.