March 1, 2019

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the inaugural Sexual and Gender Minority Research Investigator Award to Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

The award recognizes early stage investigators who have made substantial contributions related to sexual and gender minority, also known as LGBTQ, health. “At VUMC, we have undertaken a variety of foundational research efforts to advance our understanding of sexual and gender minority health,” Ehrenfeld said. “This has included a portfolio of community engaged LGBTQ research, the development and application of informatics tools, and a series of studies evaluating the impact of state and federal health policy on LGBTQ health.”

Ehrenfeld said much of the work he has led has been to understand how to implement strategies to reduce and eliminate LGBTQ health disparities. He said he believes it is time to move beyond simply measuring the gaps in the health – but rather to begin to understand how to optimize health in the LGBTQ community.

“Much of our team’s work has been to use a community engaged approach to design and test interventions,” Ehrenfeld explained. “A community based approach really leverages the knowledge and insights drawn from community members to develop and disseminate interventions.”

Another part of Ehrenfeld’s work is to study the most effective way to deliver health care services to LGBTQ individuals. “Unfortunately, many sexual and gender minority patients, even those that have access to health insurance and the ability to come into the health care system for care simply choose not too because they are concerned about discrimination or have had negative experiences in the past,” he said. One key effort has been around studying how to improve institutional environments and health care teams’ abilities to provide care for sexual and gender minority patients. Recently Ehrenfeld assisted in the opening of the new VUMC Clinic for Transgender Health. Embedded into the clinic is a research registry, where transgender patients can participate as another way to understand and improve care.

“I was completely shocked when I found out I was the inaugural NIH awardee, because there are many outstanding investigators around the country doing this type of work. It’s humbling to receive this historic recognition by Dr. Francis Collins and the National Institutes of Health,” Ehrenfeld said. He explained that he has a personal passion for research among LGBTQ patients.

“One of the most wonderful things about being at VUMC is support of my mentors, my department, and the institution overall to apply our research expertise to the emerging field of sexual and gender minority health,” he said.  “I am grateful, not just for the award, but also for all opportunities I have had working at VUMC. It is clear that Vanderbilt has a priority on improving health equity and advancing LGBTQ health.”

Warren Sandberg, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, said he is pleased with Ehrenfeld’s award. “Pursuit of diverse academic passions is a guiding principle in the department’s faculty development program.  We try to celebrate the full panorama of scholarly expression – a unique strength of Vanderbilt.  It is rewarding to have that approach validated when our faculty are recognized for their hard work as pathfinders and pioneers.”