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Transgender Is Not a Verb: Three Ways to Provide Compassionate Care to Trans Patients

By Stephanie Aldrin, Medical Student

According to the Institute of Medicine, transgender and gender nonconforming patients access health care less often than their cisgender counterparts. And when transgender patients do seek medical attention, it is often with more serious ailments.1 While many factors contribute to these disparities, health care providers can play a crucial role in reducing the stigma associated with seeing the doctor and in promoting safer health care environments for the trans members of our communities.

In fall 2015, the clinic I work at, Smiley’s Family Medicine Clinic, asked its patients who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming to speak candidly about their experiences accessing primary care. I remember scrambling to take notes as I listened to the patients’ stories and feeling grateful for the opportunity to have this small window into the challenges of seeking health care as a trans person.

Three major themes emerged from the patients’ experiences. First, small changes in language can positively impact the way a patient feels during and after an encounter with health care providers. Second, trans patients see their doctors for a number of reasons, and, like their cisgender counterparts, want to be seen as any other patient and not have their gender identity be the focus of the visit. Finally, positive partnerships occur when physicians come into the exam room as their authentic selves, who genuinely care about the patient in front of them.

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