Transgender Healthcare and The Impact of Increased Politicization of Medicine

Date

2023

Authors

Gill, Lily
Kline, Nolan
Navid, Daniel
Rice, Ellie
Webb, Natey
Johnson, Kaeli
Griner, Stacey
Neelamegam, Malinee

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Abstract

Purpose

Transgender (trans) people have a unique set of health needs that are often misunderstood and/or ignored in health settings. Such misunderstandings contribute to mental and physical health disparities when compared to the cisgender population, such as increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, substance abuse, adverse cardiovascular events, and other chronic health conditions. Addressing these disparities requires greater access to gender-affirming care (GAC) with providers who are comfortable and knowledgeable about trans individuals’ unique health needs. However, recently there has been an increase in anti-transgender legislation across the United States. This raises questions about provider regulation and ability to provide culturally appropriate care to trans patients, and potentially widening access and care disparities among trans individuals. Future providers, including medical students, who are being trained during moments of heightened anti-transgender politics, may not feel sufficiently prepared to care for trans patients. This exploratory study examined 1) current medical students’ knowledge and attitudes towards treating trans patients 2) gaps in transgender-focused content in medical curricula, and 3) medical trainings and their degree of impact on transgender healthcare.

Methods

A literature review was conducted by searching scholarly databases including PubMed using the terms related to transgender health, policy, medical students, gender-affirming care, health providers, and gender dysphoria. Articles that were 1) published after 2014 2) in English, and 3) available as full text were included. The search yielded 52 articles that were then reviewed for content on medical students’ knowledge and attitudes about trans patients, gaps in medical curricula, and perceived efficacy of trans-focused trainings and educational interventions.

Results

Existing literature suggests that trans health disparities are largely related to provider lack of knowledge and training. Despite potentially positive attitudes regarding this population, most medical students feel their curricula lacks transgender-centered content. This includes diagnosing gender dysphoria, hormone-therapy, puberty blockers, and sex reassignment surgeries. Although some students may feel knowledgeable about trans individuals’ needs overall, many report they still feel ill-prepared to work with trans patients. They request more clinical exposure to gain confidence with proper history taking and interview skills. When assessing the training modalities preferred by medical students, interactive interventions including direct communication with trans patients yield the greatest increase in perceived confidence levels. The most recommended training modalities for practicing physicians are attending professional conferences, acquiring direct clinical mentorship, and implicit bias self-awareness workshops.

Conclusion

This synthesis of current research highlights the need for increased trans-focused support in medical education, which will contribute to improving overall health outcomes, ease barriers, and ameliorate disparities for transgendered persons. In the current political context, physicians who provide GAC are faced with a unique set of social and legal challenges. Government intrusion of clinical decision-making may force physicians to forgo their obligations to transgender patients, thereby directly eliciting harm to an already marginalized population. Accordingly, current and future providers may need to engage in trans-focused advocacy efforts.

Description

Research Appreciation Day Award Winner - Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, HSC Health, 2023 Health Care Delivery Award

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