JadynJadyn Sharber ‘18OT came to Salus University to become an occupational therapist but when she arrived, she also became a LGBTQ rights advocate.

It was her love of helping people that steered Sharber in the direction of occupational therapy, so it was upsetting to learn of an incident during a classmate’s fieldwork rotation when a therapist referred to a transgender patient as “it.” During her own rotation, Sharber witnessed another therapist that refused to acknowledge a patient’s same-sex husband.

“This was a stark reminder of how LGBTQ people are often treated in healthcare settings, and a wakeup call that OT [occupational therapy] is no exception,” Sharber said.

Unfortunately, these incidents are not unusual when LGBTQ and healthcare collide as the community has disproportionately high rates of health concerns that include: eating disorders, substance abuse, mental illness, and suicidal ideation. LGBTQ people are also less likely to have access to quality healthcare services than others due to barriers such as financial problems as a result of employment discrimination and a widespread lack of cultural awareness education among healthcare providers.

As she watched this disturbing trend, Sharber took her concerns to Dr. Lauren Sponseller, chair and director of the University’s Occupational Therapy program, and asked that LGBTQ issues be included in classroom discussions about cultural awareness. Dr. Sponseller agreed, and also suggested that Sharber apply to present the topic of LGBTQ issues within the OT profession at the New Jersey Occupational Therapy Association (NJOTA) conference in October 2017.

In collaboration with Brianna Brimm, MOT, academic field coordinator, Brooke Kreummling, PhD, assistant provost, and Dr. Lauren Sponseller, Sharber applied and presented But What Does the Q Stand For? Cultural Competence to improve Healthcare Services for LGBTQ Individuals. The presentation was a success, leading to another collaborative presentation entitled What’s Taught Today Impacts the World Tomorrow: Addressing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Issues in Occupational Therapy Education, which will discuss improvements to LGBTQ health and cultural awareness education in OT schools and programs at the upcoming American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) annual conference.

Continuing to build upon her advocacy, Sharber and a group of students founded Sexuality and Gender Alliance at Salus (SAGAS), the first LGBTQ-focused student organization on campus. In its early stages, the alliance raised money for the Valley Youth House, a local non-profit organization that provides housing and supportive programs, including LGBTQ programs, to homeless and vulnerable youth. SAGAS is also in the process of organizing a public health screening focused on LGBTQ health concerns and an interdisciplinary presentation on campus to discuss how LGBTQ health and social issues affect the healthcare disciplines taught at the University.

It doesn’t look like Sharber will be slowing down any time soon. She continues to work on her upcoming presentations for conferences and updates her website consistently. “By sharing [my] website and discussing these issues with students, educators, and practitioners, I hope to increase awareness and access to important information on LGBTQ health and cultural awareness to improve LGBTQ clients’ experiences within the healthcare system, one positive interaction at a time,” she said.