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LGBTQ2 community sees gaps in health care services, calls for proper training

Addressing health care barriers for LGBTQ2 people
WATCH: Experts say many health care providers lack basic understanding to best serve the LGBTQ2 community.

A trip to the doctor’s office or dentist’s chair might cause a little anxiety for some, but an advocate for Saskatchewan’s LGBTQ2 community says other people fear inadequate care and feeling alienated.

Jess Fisher with OUTSaskatoon said the care that health professionals provide LGBTQ2 people is falling short.

READ MORE: New guide aims to help transgender people find Sask. care options

“Oftentimes when queer people access services, they’re educating their health care provider about their identity and talking about it and answering questions instead of actually getting the support they need,” said Fisher, a two-spirit woman and OUTSaskatoon’s gender-based violence education coordinator.

Health care professionals from pharmacists to physiotherapists should be better equipped to address the needs of sexual and gender minorities, she said.

“Service providers lack just basic knowledge on queer identities, so things like the difference between gender and sex, different types of sexual orientation, what it means to be transgender, what it means to transition,” she said.

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“Those are basic things that health care providers should know but don’t because of the current climate that we live in.”

READ MORE: Is the world more accepting of transgender people? Yes, but many people still aren’t: Ipsos

Jane Shulman, a researcher and consultant on LGBTQ2 people and health care, said these issues aren’t addressed often or at all in training.

“Health care providers don’t necessarily understand that queer people are putting themselves at risk when they’re vulnerable with health care providers,” said Shulman, a lesbian woman who has spent a lot of the time in the system following a cancer diagnosis.

“Nurses can help people to feel safer with gestures that don’t necessarily require more time, but require… an understanding of where their patients may be coming from.”

Those gestures could be as simple as putting a rainbow sticker on an ID badge, and not making assumptions about the gender of a patient or their partner.

It’s critical that current and future health care providers are trained with that understanding, Fisher said.

LGBTQ2S community sees gaps in health care services, calls for proper training
Jess Fisher with OUTSaskatoon says health care providers need more training on how to help LGBTQ2S people. Slavo Kutas / Global News
“Our queer community is saying they need more education,” she said. “They need to have more awareness of the history of queer folks in Canada, the impacts of gender-based violence on their everyday life and how that impacts [them] when they access services.”
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The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) has partnered with OUTSaskatoon on its gender-based violence project, which is focused on sharing what information health professionals need to better serve LGBTQ patients.

On Wednesday, Fisher spoke with medical students about improving care for the community.

“When people are in school to become a care provider, they need to be educated then, not already when they’re out in the field,” she said.

“It’s going to be a lot more challenging down the line to unlearn these things… and then to relearn ways that they can be more supportive.”

READ MORE: Health care system can often be a challenge for transgender patients

The U of S College of Medicine has six courses that touch on LGBTQ2 health.

First-year medical student Carissa Mcguin said she has received some training on how to best serve sexual and gender minorities.

“I think that the college is working really hard to increase the amount of training that we have when treating LGBTQ2S+ people,” she said. “It’s a significant portion of our patient population and they have very specific health concerns.”

But there’s still room for improvement, Mcguin said.

“I would like to see it normalized a little bit more and… worked into normal conversations about things like respiratory function or sexual health history, rather than kind of an add-on at the end,” she said.

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“We could go a long way towards just normalizing those conversations and making it part of our standard of care.”