June 18, 2021
Joanne Rolls is a PA in Family Medicine and Associate Professor of Medicine
May 26, 2021
By Sarah Blugis
Joanne Rolls, MEHP, MPAS, PA-C, is the recipient of the 2021 Publishing Award as the lead author of “Curricular Approaches to Transgender Health in Physician Assistant Education,” published in the journal Academic Medicine.
“This research is the first and most detailed of its kind,” Rolls says. “As PAs, we can lead the way in assessing and shaping curricula to improve the health access and healthcare of transgender and gender-diverse people.”
The Publishing Award is granted to a PA who published, during the prior calendar year, a new clinical or research article expressing original and/or scientifically rigorous ideas substantiated by best practices, and contributing to the advancement of the PA profession.
Rolls’ research conducted the first comprehensive, national survey of transgender healthcare curricula in PA education in order to provide a better understanding of curricula being delivered around transgender care. One key finding is that “the presence of expert faculty is significantly associated with delivery and perceived importance of transgender health curricula.”
The study also found that 85.6% of PA programs teach transgender content. Most transgender content was delivered in medical interviewing or women’s health. The most common transgender health topics included differentiating between behavior and identity, followed by health disparities and barriers to care.
“This research project was the culmination of years of work,” Rolls says. “It started as my capstone project while I was earning my master of education in the health professions at Johns Hopkins, and was happening as many of us clinically are working so hard to improve care for transgender and gender-diverse patients.”
Rolls is a PA in family medicine and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In her clinical work, she provides care to a diverse group of patients across their lifespan. Academically, she is core faculty and teaches primarily in the didactic phase of the University of Utah PA Program. Rolls is also the co-founder of and currently serving as the education director of the University of Utah Transgender Health Program.
Though Rolls initially received a degree in English and worked in the snowboard and outdoor industries, she felt herself drawn toward medicine. She became a wilderness EMT and volunteered with search and rescue, which led her to work in emergency medicine, cardiology, and teaching wilderness medicine.
Rolls became a PA, she says, to improve access to high-quality healthcare. “I always tell my students that becoming and being a PA was much harder than I imagined it would be, but for every bit that was harder, it has been much more rewarding than I had ever imagined,” Rolls says. “I feel like in being a part of our profession, I am truly making a difference for individual patients, for our profession, and medicine as a whole.”