June 2016

Caring for Transgender Patients

Family physicians play an important role in ensuring transgender patients receive respectful, effective and appropriate health care. However according to a 2015 TransPulse Project survey[1] of transgender patients in Ontario, approximately half of respondents reported feelings of discomfort discussing transgender health issues with their doctor.

Many transgender patients and gender-diverse people report experiences of marginalization and discrimination, and negative experiences with a healthcare provider can impact a patient’s likelihood of seeking health care. Some of the negative experiences reported by survey respondents included a doctor thinking that the gender listed on the patient’s identification was incorrect, and the doctor indicating he or she did not know enough about transgender-related care to provide care for the patient.

“It is critical when working with a patient who is transgender that we recognize the full context of the person’s experience, and to recognize that as family physicians, the health of all our patients is our responsibility,” says Dr. Ed Kucharski, Acting Faculty Lead for LGBTQ Health Education, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto and a family physician with Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto.

“As with all patients, individual needs will vary. For instance, not all transgender patients want to receive hormone therapy or pursue gender confirmation surgery, but will instead opt to only change their appearance. We need to listen and support.”

A number of resources are available to support clinicians through Sherbourne Health Centre and Rainbow Health Ontario. Among the resources are Guidelines and Protocols for Comprehensive Primary Health Care for Trans Clients, a weekly mentoring teleconference and continuing professional development workshops.

“When treating trans patients, there can be a fear of the unknown for the clinician so it is important that clinicians proactively build their skills and knowledge, and are aware of available supports and resources,” adds Dr. Lori Hasulo, a family physician at the Guelph Community Health Centre. 

[1] Bauer GR, Zong X, Scheim AI, Hammond R, Thind A. Factors impacting transgender patients’ discomfort with their family physicians: a respondent driven sampling study. PLoS ONE 2015; 10(12): e0145046.


The following is a list of educational resources for primary care providers wanting to learn more about LGBT health care.

Do you know of resources, events and opportunities of interest to family docs?

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