News & Stories

Students at a transgender health care event

Making Health Care Ready for Transgender Patients

After seeing an article on the work Northeast Ohio Medical University alumna Yvonne Patterson, M.D. (’83), is doing with the transgender community, several student organizations at NEOMED decided to work together to host an event focused on health care for the transgender community.

What started in March as a lunchtime event with a single speaker grew to an evening program in December featuring a passionate panel with patients, a social worker, nurse and physicians who shared a wealth of knowledge.

Leaders from NEOMED’s American Medical Women’s Association, Diversity Council, Bioethics Club, Medical Student Pride Alliance and Medical Students for Choice student chapters organized a December workshop, which welcomed both medicine and pharmacy students. The event featured health care providers from Cleveland Clinic to Penn State University.

Speakers included Scott Hamler, M.D.; Brooke Kroto, LISW-S; Jacob Nash; Laura Mintz, M.D., Ph.D.; Crystal Cole, M.D.; Henry Ng, M.D.; Solone Allen-Ashante; Ross Varndell; and Ashley Scott.

Experiences navigating gender identity

Dr. Patterson started the evening by talking about bringing together Penn State LIONS: Living in Our Natural Selves, an on-campus collaboration between their counseling and health services, to support students who are navigating gender identity — or as Dr. Patterson put it, “being born into a world that wasn’t ready for them.”

Other speakers included Ashley Scott, a disabled and retired veteran who shared how their experience — including identifying as gender-fluid – has been different from the norm.

Furthermore, Dr. Henry Ng (former president of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality) sat with a small group of students to share insight from his experience writing a book on integrating this topic in the classroom setting.

We were also grateful to have Jacob Nash join us for the evening, the mind behind Margie’s Hope — an organization focused on assisting transgender individuals in need — that has been present on campus a number of times just this year to advocate for the nonbinary patient population.

Much to share

The health care curriculum on the transgender community is limited by time and resources, so the classroom setting only allows a glimpse into this area.

As we started on our journey to create this workshop, it immediately became apparent that there was much more to share — much that we wouldn’t be able to cover, even with an evening set aside with so many knowledgeable sources. Still, we tried!

Alongside our speakers, we were able to include a short introduction to ethical issues in pulmonary/sleep health, courtesy of Julie Aultman, Ph.D., a NEOMED professor of family and community medicine.

We also distributed resource information on political advocacy and how to act as an ally, courtesy of the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, with a focus on the transgender community.

In addition, we held a white coat pronoun pin sale to help students normalize the use of pronouns in their future health care encounters. Students had the chance to select between she, he, and they, as pronouns on the pins they purchased — or simply display the message “Ask me what my pronouns are!”

By having an open environment with students who are eager to learn, we discovered our connections to the community were closer than we thought — whether it meant talking with the sister of one of our peers or learning clinical skills.

In addition, we were lucky enough to have a number of patients with intersectional identities present. These identities include, but are not limited to, race, disability, sexual orientation and social class. This is important, especially since health outcomes differ when patients are part of multiple minority communities.

One of the patient panelists expressed that this had been only her second time at an advocacy event, and it inspired her to speak up more in the future.

As students putting together an event to learn more, we are grateful these panelists took time out of their evening to come talk to us. It was wonderful to hear we were able to help her make connections as well.

Here at our own university, the Medical Student Pride Alliance (previously the Q-Club) is taking steps, including Safe Space training and speaker events, to ensure support for LGBTQ+ students, as well educating how we can be providers that serve this community well.

My biggest takeaway? There is work to be done that involves small steps, like the normalization of pronoun use and developing the habit of always listening carefully to the patient on issues related to gender.

As future providers and scientists, we have the power to change the policies, medical guidelines or curriculum in ways to help us be better. Though the world may not be ready yet for those struggling with gender identity or identifying as transgender, health care can be ready — and we can be, too.

— Sahana Harikrishnan, a second-year College of Medicine student, contributed this reflection.