Caring for the Spectrum of Difference

Caring for the Spectrum of Difference

Des Moines University recently added the concepts of diversity and inclusiveness to its mission and values, and not because it was the “Iowa nice” thing to do: At a time when diversity among Americans – in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and many other factors – has never been greater, it’s imperative the University prepare future health professionals who can provide effective, culturally competentcare to all. But what does “cultural competency” entail, and how can students achieve it?

DMU Magazine will explore those questions with this periodic series, “Caring for the Spectrum of Difference.” In this issue, we consider health care issues and education as they relate to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning populations.

“At DMU, we are working to create opportunities to have difficult dialogues to help us identify our biases and stretch our perspectives,” says Lynn Martin, Ph.D., director of educational support services.

In health care, cultural competency means providers and organizations are able to treat patients of different backgrounds according to their unique cultural needs, beliefs, customs, values and risk factors (Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Fostering cultural competency among students is also an expectation of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the independent organization that accredits U.S. colleges and universities. In its scheduled review earlier this year of DMU’s accreditation status, HLC noted the University failed to address diversity in its previous mission and vision statements. Both have been revised to include the concept as a priority. (In June, HLC granted DMU continued accreditation, with the next scheduled evaluation in 2021-2022.)

In the past year, the DMU community has begun frank discussions on truly living its mission and vision by embracing diversity and fostering cultural competency in classrooms, in clinical experiences and across campus. The verdict: Progress has been made, there’s still much work to be done, and the job will never be over.

Throughout this and other installments in our “Caring for the Spectrum of Difference” series, we invite you to share your perspectives, experiences, advice and questions on the complex topic of cultural competency.

In this series:


Gender minorities and medicine

Regardless of one’s personal views, attitudes against non-heterosexuals are harmful to health care, both for patients and the profession. As a nation founded on principles of democracy, freedom and inalienable rights, America remains unsettled in its acceptance of individuals who are not heterosexual – often referred to as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their…


Achieving intolerance for intolerance

Equipping health care students to provide competent, respectful care for all patients, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning populations, is both a challenge and an imperative for institutions like DMU. It’s not about being “nice”; it’s a critical aspect of educational and professional excellence.


Keeping patient care as priority one

Medical professionals who understand the diverse and unique health care needs of LGBTQ patients are key to competent, compassionate health care. Lack of that understanding as well as the stigma and disparities experienced by many non-heterosexuals can compound these populations’ health problems.


From a student’s perspective: Outing anti-gay biases in health care

“LGBT individuals are individuals,” states Will Narracci, D.O.’14, M.P.H.’14. “They are people with whom we interact on a daily basis, people we already know, like and respect, who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

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