Historically, women are an understudied group in health research. Much of what we know about diseases, treatment effectiveness, and medications came from studies primarily comprising men—often with the assumption that those results apply equally to women. This practice has far-reaching, and often negative, implications for women, whose health and well-being needs can be quite separate and different from their male counterparts.
The National Institutes of Health is aiming to change this and in 2016 called on scientists to take a deliberate approach in considering sex and gender in research. UNLV researchers long have been taking this a step further. As you’ll discover in the following pages, much research is being conducted by women who have made it a point to study health and well-being issues that affect women uniquely or distinctly. It’s by women, for women. What’s more, the women our researchers have been studying often come from communities that have historically been excluded, marginalized, or silenced. Our researchers are striving to advocate for these women through their work.
Marta Meana’s groundbreaking work on the severely understudied subjects of painful sexual intercourse and female desire merited one of the highest honors in her field. She upended the way professionals view both of these issues. Because of her, the treatment of women experiencing sexual pain has dramatically improved, as the focus of their treatment has appropriately shifted to the medical realm and addressing physical sources of pain versus assuming psychological or relational causes.
Rachell Ekroos, Alexis Kennedy, and Kelly Stout are raising awareness about sex crimes, the most underreported type of crime and one that carries so large a stigma that victims—overwhelmingly female—often can’t access the services they so urgently need. Ekroos’ analysis of sexual assault kits has the potential to change national standards and policy for collection and processing. Kennedy and Stout are also aiming for policy change, this time in the area of underage sex trafficking, a significant problem in our local community and, again, one for which limited research exists.
Patricia Gatlin and Arpita Basu are exploring minority women’s treatment options for a medical condition that profoundly affects the health of women and their babies: diabetes, among the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. and the disease responsible for the highest health care costs. It’s also one of the most commonly reported health conditions during pregnancy, and its effects are long-lasting on mothers and their children alike.
The lack of information regarding simulation training for surgeons in obstetrics and gynecology spurred Nadia Gomez’s research with the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists. She’s studying how simulations can better prepare surgeons in a field exclusive to women, and her findings will help inform how these surgeons are trained moving forward.
Our researchers are calling for change through their work, making a difference in other women’s lives and the lives of children, and using their voices to ensure that the voiceless are heard. By forging new paths that promote greater health and well-being for women, these UNLV researchers are also forging new hope—for women near and far, today and tomorrow.
—Angela Frederick Amar, Ph.D., RN, FAAN
Dean and professor, UNLV School of Nursing