Transgender actors can help medical residents provide more sensitive care

Male doctor in white lab coat
Transgender actors helped medical residents improve their sensitivity in interacting with transgender patients, a study found. (Getty/Saklakova)

After talking to transgender patients who said they felt discomfort, discrimination and insensitivity in healthcare settings, a New York doctor wondered how he could help change that.

So Richard E. Greene, M.D., director of gender and health education at NYU Langone Medical Center, designed a study in which transgender actors would play patients and interact with medical residents to teach them to provide more sensitive care.

Acting out a scenario commonly seen in the clinic, a transgender actress was successful in helping the residents have a better understanding of healthcare issues faced by transgender patients, according to the study published online in the Journal of Graduate Medical Education.

“The opportunity to interact with a transgender patient in a low-stakes setting during medical training increased trainees’ comfort during future real-world outpatient encounters,” Greene, lead author of the study, said in an announcement.

In the study, 23 internal medicine residents interviewed the actress to determine medical needs, communicate options and offer reassurance. The actress rated each doctor on the ability to communicate and her satisfaction with the interaction. The results indicate that good communication skills helped some residents overcome their lack of transgender-specific clinical knowledge and that going through this scenario training with a transgender actress helped them to shed preconceptions and be better prepared for the clinic, researchers said.

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On the other hand, most residents in the study did not directly address the patient’s gender identity and long-term goals of care, says Greene, underscoring the need to include transgender patients in medical training.

Recognizing the need to enhance care for the thousands of Americans who identify as transgender, as well as for many others who do not identify with one particular gender, the American Medical Association took action to support transgender patients, backing LGBT-friendly, nondiscriminatory policies at its annual meeting this week, according to the AMA Wire.

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The AMA delegates directed the organization to work with others to inform and educate the medical community and the public on the spectrum of gender identity. They also adopted a policy opposing any efforts that would prevent a transgender person from “accessing basic human services and public facilities in line with one’s gender identity.”