Last Thursday, I spent my evening as I do most Thursdays—watching Grey’s Anatomy. As many of us have come to expect, primetime dramas often present storylines that mimic what we are seeing in the news and in the world around us. One storyline in the most recent episode revolved around an accident sustained by Ben Warren’s (husband of Dr. Miranda Bailey) “brother,” that led to the discovery that he was in the process of transitioning to a woman. It may come as no surprise then, that my attention was grabbed on Friday morning as I skimmed through my Health Care Communication News Feed and saw the following headline, “Landmark LGBT training for new doctors is underway.”
In the episode, Ben struggles with the idea that the brother he has known all his life is transitioning into becoming his sister. Even at the urging of his wife, he can’t bring himself to call him “her,” or to use the name that she has chosen for herself. In this circumstance, the medical provider was close to the situation, as it was a family member who was identifying as transgendered. But in other cases, not so close to home, what happens then?
In November, the University of Louisville School of Medicine announced that it was developing a pilot program comprised of 30 core competencies, in eight domains of care, specifically geared toward training physicians how to meet the unique health concerns of those individuals who identify as LGBT, gender nonconforming, or born with differences of sex development (DSD). Full integration into the school’s curriculum is expected for school year 2016-2017.
Each segment of the population has its own set of unique health concerns, and those in the LGBT and DSD communities are no different. Research shows that these health disparities result in decreased access to care or willingness to seek care, resulting in increased medical morbidity and mortality for LGBT and DSD-affected patients.
In USA Today, one couple came forward to share with the public their story of discrimination after a pediatrician had a change of heart and refused to be the pediatrician for their newborn daughter. Krista and Jami Contreras chose the physician before the birth of their daughter, and the physician was aware of their sexual orientation. However, it wasn’t until the child’s first visit at just 6 days old that the mothers were told that the doctor had changed her mind. In Michigan, where the couple resides, there is no state law that prohibits discrimination of LGBT individuals, nor is there a federal law to protect them. Jami spoke for the couple when she stated the reason they decided to go public, “We want people to know that this is happening to families…It was embarrassing. It was humiliating…It’s just wrong.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services understood the growing diversity of our country’s population and the importance of training physicians to treat these patients when they released “Cultural Competency in Medical Education: A Guidebook for Schools” in 2004. In the past 10 years, the unique health care needs of a growing number of people have become clear. Medical education must constantly evolve in order to train doctors to deliver compassionate care to all patients, while striving to meet all their unique physical, emotional and mental needs.