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As a scholar and volunteer, PhD candidate Shane Bierma is helping the LGBT+ community—and especially people living with HIV/AIDS—live better and healthier lives.

Shane Bierma
Shane Bierma

Bierma’s research focuses on both LGBT health and the barriers and issues individuals face with when living with HIV/AIDS. Her dissertation looks at how demographics, physical health, and mental health can predict whether a patient will adhere to their HIV medication regimen.

“I’ve been an advocate for the LGBTQ community much of my life, but it wasn’t until I moved to the South and began graduate school that I fully recognized the disparity in resources for this group of individuals and how that impacts their wellness,” said Bierma, who previously lived in Iowa and Wisconsin. “Granted, I’ve never met a group of individuals who are tougher and more resilient than those in the LGBTQ community, but the lack of resources, along with the societal oppression of this group, does not sit well with me.”

Bierma has long volunteered at Positively Living, a local HIV/AIDS clinic, as well as other LGBT rights groups. She is now helping Positively Living plan, fund, and implement a major expansion in its treatment capacity across the region.

But what really sets her apart, both UT and agency officials say, is her willingness to go above and beyond what is expected and her ability to really connect with the people she’s helping.

“One event which best illustrated Shane’s leadership occurred in June 2016,” said Leticia Flores, associate professor and director of UT’s Psychological Clinic. “The Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting rocked the campus and the country, as more than 50 LGBT+ patrons were killed.”

While Flores was out of the country and unable to provide crisis counseling and support for local LGBT+ students shocked and frightened by this violence, she said, “Shane stepped up and assisted my colleagues by bringing calm and comfort to students on campus in those tense days following the shooting.”

Steve Jenkins, executive director of Positively Living and Choice Health Network, has a similar story that illustrates Bierma’s ability to work with this vulnerable population.

“Just weeks after Shane formally came on board with us, our residential facility was severely damaged during a storm and many of the residential men were traumatized,” Jenkins said. “Shane quickly built rapport with our residential men and attended to their distress calmly and collectedly. The men responded uncommonly well to her, as they historically are mistrusting and aggressive toward outsiders. This speaks to Shane’s extraordinary clinical abilities and her adaptability during times of stress.”

Bierma “goes above and beyond with all of our clients, and I have seen many of them live a better quality of life who are under her care,” Jenkins continued. “I would almost guarantee that if you ask an individual in the LGBT community who she is, they would report back that they know, admire, and have received some sort of help from her.”

Todd Moore, associate dean for graduate studies in the Department of Psychology, has been Bierma’s primary advisor during her doctoral studies.

“Shane is a fantastic department and community citizen,” he said.

Bierma will be entering her residency Louisiana State University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry in New Orleans this summer and plans to continue her community work there.

“In the future, I would like to work in an academic health setting affiliated with a doctoral training program so I can work with training clinicians, teach, and continue my clinical work and research,” she said.