Nurses and the Transgender Patient Community

By Keith Carlson, via Multibriefs

In the 21st century, increasing acceptance of transgender lifestyles is allowing many transgender individuals to more readily interface with health care providers and institutions. However, transgender individuals still face humiliation, judgment, intimidation and gross maltreatment within the health care industry, and recent lawsuits corroborate that fact. Nurses can be at the forefront of providing the transgender community with comprehensive, sensitive and compassionate care.

Authentic curiosity and openness

For the uninitiated, transgender lifestyles and language can be confusing. From “trans man” and “trans woman” to other potentially confusing terms, we can feel at sea; when you don’t know, simply ask to be educated.

As a nurse, if you’re meeting with a transgender patient and you’re feeling confused about which pronoun to use, simply ask your patient for guidance. Rather than guessing, it’s preferable to be authentic and say, “I’m honestly not sure how to address you; what do you prefer?” This will put your patient at ease and show them that you care enough to ask.

Just as if you were working with a Muslim or Asian patient and needed to adjust to cultural norms regarding eye contact or touch, transgender patients also require health care providers to make appropriate adjustments.

As a health care provider, you can decrease transgender patients’ burden by being open, curious, authentic, honest and communicative.

Educate yourself and others

Transgender health care issues are not going away; we will all encounter more transgender patients of all ages over time. There are journal articles, blogs, books, videos and all manner of media that can assist the earnest nurse in becoming conversant with the nomenclature, health concerns and challenges of transgender patients.

Are you aware that men who have had gender reassignment surgery and now have female genitalia still have a prostate gland and should be screened for prostate cancer? Did you know that women who have had mastectomies and transitioned to being physically male are still at risk for breast cancer? How would your facility provide care for a physiologically female patient who needs a PAP smear but appears male because he’s on hormone replacement therapy and has a full beard, body hair and a deep voice? Would that patient be treated with dignity and respect by front line staff, medical assistants, nurses, and physicians? If these types of scenarios have not been addressed by your facility, you have work to do.

Be an advocate and a champion

Most nurses would agree that we are first and foremost patient allies and advocates. We cannot choose for whom we wish to advocate; all patients deserve for us to be their champions.

Transgender patients need our advocacy as much (or more) than other vulnerable populations, and nurses are positioned to be champions of appropriate, sensitive, and compassionate transgender health care. If we educate ourselves and others, serve as allies, and advocate for the rights of transgender patients, we are indeed contributing positively to the evolution and quality of transgender health care.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway and a widely read freelance nurse writer. Keith is also the co-host of RNFM Radio, a popular Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

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