Northwestern launched the first university-wide institute in the nation to focus entirely on LGBT health Monday, the Feinberg School of Medicine announced.
The Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing draws researchers from multiple NU departments to research and improve LGBT health. It was developed from the existing IMPACT program, which similarly focused on health in the LGBT community, but with less of the infrastructure and collaboration that characterizes the new center.
“The goal of the institute is to leverage the relationship and successes of the IMPACT program and expand them into other areas,” said Brian Mustanski, director of both ISGMH and IMPACT. “When universities establish (institutes), it’s really with the goal of catalyzing research and training in a particular area and really drawing in people across multiple departments.”
This new opportunity for interdepartmental collaboration will strengthen the institute’s research, Mustanski said.
Pulling in researchers from beyond the medical field is necessary in research involving complicated data, said Michelle Birkett, director of one of ISGMH’s research programs.
“Trying to understand why these things happen and then also trying to develop interventions that address them is more complicated than any one department or discipline or single group of researchers can do,” Birkett said. “By working together, I think (we) can make a much greater impact.”
The institute currently oversees three different research programs with a core focus on LGBT health.
IMPACT will be folded into the institute, sharpening its research to focus on LGBT youth. Other programs include the Complex Systems and Health Disparities Research Program and the Evaluation, Data Integration, and Technical Assistance Program.
“Splitting it up into different programs will allow us to pursue different research trajectories or strategies and to have people really have a focus,” said Birkett, who oversees CSHD.
The CSHD program works to understand how the health of LGBT individuals is affected by different environments. Researchers study individuals as well as the communities they live in to understand how inequalities in broader systems affect LGBT health.
“It’s complicated, and a lot of times it’s not necessarily the result of an individual who is participating in risk behavior but it’s a process at a system’s level,” Birkett said. “In terms of homophobia, racism, poverty — all of these things trickle down to influence people’s conscious individual behaviors.”
The EDIT program focuses on studying LGBT health initiatives in real-life settings, said Gregory Phillips II, director of EDIT. It is rooted in community-based work to evaluate LGBT programs and interventions to see what is working and what is not. EDIT develops ways to collect and disseminate this type of data, he said.
EDIT’s work stems from previous work done in HIV prevention program evaluations, Phillips said. With existing partnerships with community-based organizations, it will be built of off work already being done locally, he added.
“We know we are doing a lot of great work and we’re hoping to expand on that to do more on a larger scale,” Phillips said.
The institute is in the midst of strategic planning to create programs for new areas of study, including research in women’s health and older adults, Mustanski said.
“It’s a really exciting time for our community, and I think Northwestern was very visionary in recognizing the need and opportunity,” he said.
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