How to Provide LGBTQ+ Patients With the Best Care Possible
Published on Aug 17, 2020. Updated on Sep 24, 2020.
Part of being a good doctor is knowing how to treat different groups of people. In today’s Minorities in Medicine blog, LGBTQ+ medical student and OMEF Omer Rott shares his advice for being inclusive in your clinical practice to provide the best care possible.
Medicine is one of those professional fields where you will meet many different people from a huge variety of different backgrounds. As medical students, part of our education is meeting with patients and learning how to interact with them. Unfortunately, as students, we are not always exposed to those in minority groups and they are not usually represented in our education.
Some things we cannot change, but what we can change is our own knowledge by actively learning and trying to better ourselves as clinicians and as people, every single day.
My name is Omer, I identify as gay, and see myself as part of the LGBTQ+ community. In this article, I will give you some insight into this minority group that I’m a part of, and how to interact with us in the hospital as your future patients.
How to phrase questions inclusively and appropriately in the clinic
One of the experiences I write about is going to the doctor for a routine STD testing. I was still in the closet (meaning, nobody knew I was gay) and came with the intention to ask him about extra precautions I can take as a gay man.
The doctor, who was actually very nice and I’m sure well-intentioned, asked, “Is your girlfriend also getting tested?”
Since I was still very much in the closet, this casual assumption made me feel ashamed and embarrassed. This small question—which he probably didn’t think twice about—made me want to leave the minute I could, without asking my questions.
I ended up asking Dr. Google, who as we know is not board-certified!
The doctor was not at fault in wanting to make sure my partner was also getting tested—on the contrary! His only fault was in assuming the gender of my partner, thereby assuming my sexual orientation.
The solution to this is quite simple: instead of asking me about “my girlfriend”, he should have instead asked me about my partner, no gender implied. In this case, a simple change in the doctor’s terminology would have made a huge impact and made me feel comfortable enough to ask my question.
Pronouns, and how to use them
When I first joined the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship Program, one question that I initially found peculiar from the team was, “What are your preferred pronouns?” (meaning he/her/his/they/them, etc.)
At first, I thought this was a silly question. My name is Omer, I look like a man, so it should be obvious for Osmosis that I use masculine pronouns—right?
After thinking about it a bit more, I realized that the same “funny question” might not be so funny to someone who might not see themselves as male or female. That someone might need to correct people every day as to how they should address them. For that someone, this small, one-second question might make life easier.
Please ask for your patient’s preferred pronouns. Put multiple options for gender on your intake forms, and use your patient’s preferred pronouns at all times, even when they’re not in the room—for instance, while discussing the case with your colleagues.
Think about what “I don’t see color!” really means
When someone said on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah that they “don’t see color”, Trevor answered, “You don’t see color? So what do you do at a traffic light?” Jokes aside, he also made an important point saying, “There’s nothing wrong with seeing color—it’s how you treat color that’s important.”
The same thing can be said about the LGBTQ+ community regarding medicine. There is no need to ignore someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity—it’s a fact that certain diseases are found more in specific minorities, for all sorts of reasons.
For instance, if you are treating a transgender person, ask if they are on hormone therapy, or recently had surgery. This information can be important for the diagnosis. However, before asking personal and invasive questions, it is always nice to explain the reason why you’re asking.
A few final thoughts
I am aware that all of the information here might be new to most, and putting it all into practice does require a certain amount of effort in the beginning—sometimes even I struggle and forget some of the questions and terms!
To help you, here are a few things you can try and integrate when seeing patients.
Be straightforward. Ask “what pronouns do you prefer?” (Better yet, add that question to the patient form!)
When taking a patient history, do not assume your patient’s sexual orientation.
Regarding “biological gender,” try avoiding that term altogether. Instead, try asking, “What is the sex listed on your birth certificate?” When writing down the info, write “Assigned Male/Female at birth” (AMAB / AFAB).
Avoid “dead-naming” your transgender patients. If they have changed their name to reflect their true gender identity, respect that and use it.
Hopefully this post has cleared up some misconceptions you might have had about the LGBTQ+ community and given you some useful strategies for providing us with the best care possible in the clinic. Thanks for reading!
Omer Rott is 26 years old and “came out” at age 20 during his military service in Israel. Omer is a third-year medical student at Masaryk University, Brno, located in the Czech Republic, and a Regional Lead in the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program. He is interested in Pediatrics. During his free time, Omer enjoys reading, baking, photography, and playing board games with his friends.
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