Many physicians in the United States are very willing to treat their transgender patients, but they may not know the best way to do so, reports Reuters.
According to a small study, 86% of doctors said that they were willing to provide routine care to transgender patients. In addition, 79% of the doctors in the study said that they would have no problem performing a pap smear on transgender men to test for cervical cancer.
However, many of the doctors expressed a low level of familiarity with transgender transition care, a lack of training in transgender-specific care, lack of knowledge of transgender issues among the medical staff, and lack of exposure to transgender patients. This shows that while doctors are willing to help their transgender patients, they might not have the necessary skills to do so adequately.
The study leader, Deirdre Shires of Michigan University, said in an email that many studies have shown that transgender patients often have negative experiences while attempting to access healthcare services. The experiences include bias, harassment, and denial of healthcare. She noticed that no one has gotten the doctor's perspective as to why this occurs which prompted her to conduct the study.
Her team sent out the survey to 308 internal medicine and family care physicians and received back 140 evaluable responses. The results show that older doctors are less likely to provide care to transgender patients than younger ones. Shires concluded that while clinical knowledge is important in regard to the medical field, it is equally important that doctors recognize their own internal bias as they should be able to provide a positive experience for all of their patients, not just the cisgender ones.
John Ayers, a public health researcher from the University of California, suggests that a lack of training is not associated with an unwillingness to provide care; what's more important is that physicians have experience with transgender patients.
There are definite problems with this study, as the sample size was extremely small, which leads to an non-representative sample. Additionally, many of the physicians that were sent the survey declined to participate, which can cause the results of the survey to be over-reported, according to Dr. Janelle Downing of the University of South Carolina.
If my knowledge of methods of social research is correct, Shire's team used a stratified sample, i.e., the population is divided into subgroups and members of the subgroups are selected at random to answer the survey. While this method is the most appropriate for this study because the subgroups were separated from a wider homogeneous group (doctors), the sample size should have been much larger in order to provide a more representative sample of doctors.
While the study is surely lacking, it is not without merit. We now have a general idea that the majority of physicians are willing to treat transgender clients. Whether or not they're prepared is a different story. I think that what physicians need now is to have sensitivity training regarding transgender issues as well as have more transgender patients, because having trans patients will increase exposure and decrease bias.