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Gender Diversity for Medical Professionals

Gender diversity can be a very sensitive topic to navigate as a medical professional, but it is important that a medical practice is able to respect the needs of gender diverse individuals. Poor experiences mean that gender diverse people may not seek out medical help when they need it. Being able to take steps to ensure that gender diverse patients feel safe and respected will not only benefit those patients, but ensure practices more inclusive.

In some cases, it may be necessary for medical practices to ask for or record a patient’s legal name and sex assigned at birth. Taking into account that such questions might be upsetting or difficult for a gender diverse patient to answer, this experience should be made as comfortable as possible, and be approached with sensitivity and understanding. Having  space on patient intake forms to acknowledge how a patient wishes to be addressed, can be helpful. In environments where a patient has to deal with multiple staff members, there needs to be an understanding that all staff will respect the patient’s choices.

This approach should also extend to medical procedures. It can be extremely difficult and confronting to be presenting as gender non-conforming, yet require something sex specific like a pap-smear or prostate exam. By letting go of the notion that certain sex-specific tests or procedures are only required by men or only required by women, you can help start to break down some of the stigma that burdens gender diverse people.

It is important to understand that being gender diverse is different to being trans. Namely, a trans person might have a binary gender identity, while a gender diverse person might not. It is thus important not to make assumptions on what a patient may require solely based on their expressed gender identity, and patients should be asked directly how they identify and what their needs might be. The desire to transition, and how that might be facilitated, can look radically different to what may be expected in both the trans and gender diverse populations. While it might be useful to start a conversation about hormones and surgery, it must not be expected that this is necessary or the preferred way to transition for a gender diverse (or trans) person, or that a medical transition is desired at all.

Doctors play a role in social transition as well – for example, where documentation may be required to update or change certain legalities. It is fundamental to grasp the idea of the “role of gatekeeper” and the impact this has on gender diverse people. Healthcare that is sensitive to gender identity has historically been shaped to suit binary-gendered trans people. For this reason, much of the diagnostic and treatment protocol requires patients to conform to many rigid, gendered stereotypes in order to gain access to treatment. Whilst this is often times inappropriate for many binary trans people, it is even more difficult for gender diverse people who may not have a binary gender with which to conform. It is therefore central not to assume a correlation between names, pronouns, gender identity and the medical interventions a person may or may not wish to have.

The gender diverse community is underserviced by medical professionals, as they receive a disproportionate low level of medical services compared to the general population. Seeking out specialist training to ensure that doctors, medical staff and administration support are respectful to the needs of this community, can be a starting point in rectifying the imbalances for gender diverse people accessing health care. AGA regularly offers such training.

Key Points

  • Ensuring that a medical practice is gender neutral and inclusive helps gender diverse people access medical services when they are needed.
  • When unavoidable questions must be asked, there needs to be room for language preferences to be respected, including name, gender and pronouns It can make a significant positive difference for a gender diverse patient if  they are afforded compassion and understanding that such questions may be  uncomfortable and anxiety provoking for them.
  • Even when a procedure is sex specific it is better to refer to such by procedure and anatomy rather than gender.
  • Transition for gender diverse people could look different to what might be expected, given the way healthcare has been shaped to treat binary transgender people. It is critical that the needs of gender diverse patients are respected, acknowledged and understood.
  • Doctors can play a pivotal role in the social transition for the gender diverse patients.