Transgender Education for Healthcare Providers Amongst DEI Resistance

by | Apr 19, 2024

Healthcare thrives on understanding and meeting the diverse needs of its patients. Yet, when it comes to transgender healthcare, there’s a noticeable gap in awareness and specialized care.

A transgender patient is not simply an LGBTQ+ subsect, nor just a matter of pronouns and political correctness.

They are individuals with distinct medical, psychological, and emotional needs that intersect with the very fibers of their identity.

Before we dive into the importance of individualized, gender-affirming care, let’s address the elephant in the room.

A Growing Resistance to DEI 

In the healthcare sector and beyond, there’s a nuanced conversation unfolding about the place and perception of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) training. According to a 2024 Report from Littler, many executives agree (38%) or strongly agree (21%) that backlash against such programs has increased since the Supreme Court ruled that race-based admissions programs are illegal.

In healthcare, these programs are typically mandated by employers and licensing boards, leading some professionals to view them as mere formalities. Accreditation requirements and a crowded market of online CME opportunities only add to the mix, often making training a race to click through the modules instead of a valuable opportunity to engage and learn about the content.

The truth is that DEI plays a crucial role in a healthcare professional’s ability to deliver informed healthcare. Color-blind equality, or the equal treatment of individuals regardless of group identity, naturally contradicts the concept of patient-centered care since a patient’s group identity can directly affect their medical needs and care plan.

Gaps in Training

The resistance to DEI training is particularly concerning given the gaps in specialized transgender education within healthcare, which is missing from current program curricula and training offerings.

Many medical institutions offer a blanket ‘cultural training’ that caters to a spectrum of diversity and inclusion ideals. As a result, DEI training modules are often based on ‘check-the-box’ cultural competency, where learners receive only a surface understanding of social issues rather than a deeper understanding of the impact on patient care.

While these efforts may be well-intentioned, they often fall short. The current system fails to serve the best interests of transgender patients by undermining some of the foundational principles of medical care. 

Transgender individuals don’t just deserve specialized care – they require it. Current curricula offerings fail to guide practitioners in addressing the unique medical needs of these members of our community. 

A Group In Need of More

The lack of transgender-related training and awareness further amplifies health inequities in an already marginalized group that, according to statistics, is in desperate need of help.

People who are transgender are at a higher risk for adverse mental health outcomes compared to cisgender individuals, including members of the LGB community. Depression and anxiety affect over 70% of transgender individuals. They are significantly more likely to have suicidal thoughts, engage in self-injury, and attempt suicide. They are also more likely to be victims of violence and have their concerns dismissed by authorities or healthcare professionals. 

Eroding trust between transgender patients and the healthcare system continues to put this already at-risk population at a disadvantage. 

Revolutionizing Healthcare Outcomes: How Transgender Education Impacts Care

Correct pronoun usage embodies the respect and validation of an individual’s identity, but it is a surface-level acknowledgment.

The depth of transgender education must extend beyond grammar to address the complexity of gender identity and its medical implications. Ensuring all components of a patient’s care align with their affirmed gender is a direct outcome of specialized training.

Targeted education can improve the healthcare experience of patients who are transgender in several ways, including:

1. Preparing providers for meeting the unique healthcare needs of the transgender community.

A transgender patient’s preventive care and health promotion requirements differ significantly from their cisgender counterparts. Physical exams, cancer screenings, and other assessments based on organs or biological sex can be stressful or even traumatic.

Transgender-specific training will help providers approach sensitive topics with their patients and tailor treatments and screenings. Understanding and addressing these nuances through education can lead to life-changing interventions, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or gender-affirming surgeries. Providers will be able to guide their patients while mitigating risks specific to transgender healthcare, such as those linked to long-term hormone treatments.

2. Promoting gender-affirming care while considering the patient’s sensitive personal and social factors.

Gender-affirming care (GAC) has a direct positive impact on a patient’s health outcomes. However, inclusive care requires more than using chosen names and pronouns. 

Personalized care plans that consider the patient’s goals and psychosocial dynamics are crucial to effective healthcare practices. As a result of GAC, transgender patients can make well-informed decisions about their health, have a better quality of life, and improved mental health.

3. Building trust between transgender patients, their providers, and the medical system. 

The physical examination and medical interview are among the most intimate moments in a patient’s medical narrative. They can be intrusive and uncomfortable. For transgender individuals, the way an exam is conducted can either validate their identity or profoundly violate it.

Physicians need accurate information to make medical decisions, but patients must be comfortable with their providers and be open and honest during appointments. Patients who trust their medical teams are more likely to keep appointments, follow their care plans, and seek care when needed.

4. Supporting and protecting a marginalized community.

GAC, chosen names, and pronouns are just scratching the surface. With compassion and adequate education, practitioners can better understand and meet the nuanced needs of their patients. 

Each patient’s situation is unique, and their health and safety are the priorities. While GAC and using a patient’s chosen name in the office result in positive health outcomes, they can also lead to unintended consequences or even harm.

Patients who have not yet discussed their identities with families, partners, and friends can be inadvertently “outed” by medical mail addressed to their chosen names. Patients with unsupportive family and social circles could find themselves ostracized, homeless, or even harmed. Careful consideration of their personal preferences and safety outside the office is something a provider might not think of without training. 

Returning the Human Touch to Healthcare

At Simclusive, we aim to help providers fill a critical role in saving lives and amplifying the voices of marginalized individuals. Our goal is to help learners fill the knowledge gap meaningfully and effectively. 

Going beyond the checkbox, Simclusive’s Standardized Patients (SP) with lived human stories can provide invaluable experience for providers. Learners can engage in conversations and practice clinical skills with this unique patient population in a safe and accommodating space for both patient and practitioner. 

Some of our diverse SP scenarios include:

Supporting Your 60-year-old Patient Through Their Gender Emergence

Preparing for a Trauma-Informed Physical Exam & Pap Test

Taking an Organ Inventory for a New Patient

Simclusive allows providers to practice technical and cultural competencies while honing soft skills in a live conversation. Talking with an SP with real-life experience can provide invaluable insight and immediate feedback while you learn about and celebrate your patient’s unique story. Contact us today to learn more about our mission and scenarios.


Renee Wadsworth

Renee Wadsworth is a simulationist specializing in Human Simulation Online, using SPs (standardized patients) to apply & assess important skills in a psychologically safe environment. Renee is currently an SP Education Strategist for SP-ed & Simclusive at Healthcourse, Inc where she is responsible for developing, coordinating, and managing human-to-human simulations for universities, health systems, and professional associations, focused largely on telehealth and inclusive healthcare. Renee was first introduced to the world of medical simulation as an SP in 2013 and quickly gained more involvement with the industry, finding creative ways to expand the use of SPs outside of undergraduate medical education. She is passionate about creating a world where patients feel safe and confident with their care teams.

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