Coming Out Day is an LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) awareness day celebrated annually on Oct. 11 to support the Queer community in “coming out of the closet,” or in sharing their gender identity and/or sexual orientation with family and friends. The day was chosen by activists to coincide with Oct. 11, 1987, when more than half a million people marched for Queer rights in Washington, D.C.
In honor of Coming Out Day, Provider Solutions & Development spent some time talking with Dr. Kevin Wang, the medical director of Swedish Health Service’s newly established LGBTQI+ Program. He also served as faculty at Swedish First Hill Family Medicine Residency Program in Seattle, Washington from 2010 until 2021.
Here, he discusses the importance of providing gender-affirming healthcare for the LGBTQI+ community and gives tips on what providers can do to make their own practice more inclusive.
PS&D: Hi Dr. Wang! Can you talk about what happens when LGBTQI+ patients are not receiving compassionate, inclusive care?
Dr. Wang: Yes, I can give you a personal example. When I was a kid, I would see my family doctor, and he’d ask me if I had any crushes on girls in my class or if I had a girlfriend. I already knew I liked boys. And it made me feel like, ‘Oh, is there something wrong with me?’ I didn’t feel like I could be open with him.
Another example: When I was interviewing for a spot in a residency program, I was told I wouldn’t be a good fit for the program after I came out to the interviewer.
Now as a doctor myself, I think some of the best examples are when physicians have stereotypes influencing their care. Let’s say a cis-gender, gay male comes in and they tell their provider they’re gay. And that provider says, ‘Oh, we should be testing you for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.’ They make an assumption the patient is promiscuous when he could be in a committed relationship. On the other hand, a straight person comes in, and no one even has that conversation with them, because it is assumed they’re monogamous. Or a patient tells her doctor she’s a lesbian, and the assumption is made she has never had sex with a man, and no one recommends cervical cancer screening or HPV vaccination.
Medically speaking, a transgender or non-binary patient might come in and request hormonal therapy. Many providers still are not comfortable providing hormones. It’s not something traditionally taught in medical school or in a lot of residency programs.
PS&D: What can providers and clinics do to create an inclusive environment?
Dr. Wang: When I meet a new patient, there are little things I do to sort of lay a breadcrumb trail, so if they do identify in the LGBTQI+ community, they will feel comfortable talking to me about it. I say, ‘Hi I’m Dr. Kevin Wang, and I use he/him pronouns. How would you like me to address you?’ I use gender-neutral language, and I ask the same questions of every patient about their relationships. These breadcrumbs can open doors, so if someone is exploring their gender identity, they may discuss it with me later when they feel comfortable.
We also need to have more inclusive patient-facing materials and policies. Registration forms could have open-ended questions for gender and sexuality. There is so much potential for creating inclusive clinical environments.
To read more insights from Dr. Wang, including his own Coming Out story, and to learn more about his work at Swedish Health Services, check out the full article. Want to discuss your career options with an expert Recruitment Advisor? We have those on deck at Provider Solutions & Development. We offer holistic, personalized guidance to help you find the right fit, at every step in your career. Start the conversation today.
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