The media has been absolutely buzzing over former Olympic athlete, Bruce Jenner’s gender transformation. Of course by now (under you’ve been living in a bomb shelter or under a huge wifi-blocking rock) you probably have heard that now Jenner goes by the name Caitlyn. And, despite some critic’s negativity, the majority of the nation supported her choice to finally be honest with herself about who she truly was born to be. It was not just a small step, but a leap towards building a more accepting country for the trans community.
As our culture becomes more open to the LGBT community and establishing a more accepting as a society in whole, we need to ensure that we are properly handling situations with our patients with the utmost respect. After all, everyone (regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation) has the right to a health visit free from embarrassment, shame or ridicule (intentional or otherwise.)
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality reported in a 2011 study that 19% of their participants reported refusal of medical care due to their transgender or nonconforming status. Additionally, the same study showed that 28% it’s respondents actually said they had to educate their medical practitioners about proper transgender care and had to postpone their care due to discrimination. Let’s face it, the transgender community is undeserved in healthcare.
Here are some tips nurses should note for approaching transgender patients:
1. Ask what gender they identify with
When you’re seeing a new patient (or even an old one you haven’t seen in a while) you must be careful to not hastily pass assumptions on their gender identity solely based on masculine or feminine cues. To avoid any slip-ups, you need to immediately ask each patient what they identity as.
2. Don’t mix up the pronouns
After initially asking a patient what they identify with, you should then know the male (he), female (she), they or another gender-neutral alternative to refer to them as. However, it’s crucial to stay consistent and to be mindful.
3. Check their registration before asking their gender identity
If you can skip #1 altogether, you can just get right to the point without causing attention to the topic of gender. Check to see if they identified with a specific gender based off their registration forms.
4. Keep to clinical questions solely
If you’re not familiar with the transgender lifestyle, it may be confusing and draw a lot of questions for you personally. However, curiosity killed the cat. Keep your interactions professional and sensitive. If you’re asking questions, ensure that they’re relevant to their treatment and don’t get sidetracked into a tangent asking prying questions. Your patient isn’t there to answer your questions about their lifestyle, they’re there for medical treatment.
5. Screen for gender dysphoria
Although a lot of transgender individuals have a positive self-identity, others do not. So if you’re treating a patient who might be at risk for having bad feelings about their gender-identity, it’s important as a healthcare provider to lead a positive direction to those who may be struggling with feelings of uncertainty. Suggest exploring the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) or the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association to seek counseling.
6. Gender-specific health prevention shouldn’t be ignored on a transgender patient
Although you should delicately treat a patient’s gender identification, you can’t ignore biological health checkups. For example, if a transgender man still has female anatomy should still have Pap tests. Also, just like any other patient, screenings for STIs and providing information on contraception.
7. Remember being transgender is not a psychological choice
Some medical personnel may wonder if you should suggest counseling instead of helping a patient change their body to fit their desired gender. This is absolutely wrong. Evidence has shown that it’s not a choice but rather rooted in biology. Only suggest counseling if the patient’s mental well-being seems at risk. Not if they voice wishes of changing their body to fit their gender.