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A new study shows trans, nonbinary physicians face transphobia throughout the medical field

A doctor's stethoscope.
Creative commons
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unsplash.com/Hush Naidoo Jade
A doctor's stethoscope.

A new study shows transgender and nonbinary physicians face overt biases associated with their identity and gender presentation.

The study, led by Dr. Laura Westafer, an ER doctor at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, finds trans and nonbinary doctors experience transphobia regularly. Many trans physicians noted that they are misgendered or get called the wrong name by colleagues or supervising attendants.

Westafer, who is also a researcher in the Department of Healthcare Delivery and Population Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, said this leads to many trans doctors leaving the field, but that some hospitals have toolkits for physicians who are going to transition.

"Here's who you send emails to. Here's who corrects your name in the electronic health record. We're going to send emails to all of these things, ways that people can be alerted to these changes so they don't have to go through those traumas," she said.

Westafer recalled an experience she faced while doing her clinical rotations in medical school in the rural South. Westafer, who identifies as a lesbian, had not come out yet.

"I remember sitting there in an emergency department and they have the little curtain, you know, there are no doors... And a patient had come in with nausea and vomiting and was sick," she said. "We go into our assessment and I'm working on the patient's chart and I hear [other physicians] joking and not calling the patient by the right name and the right gender and mocking the patient's presentation that was non-conforming to the gender binary."

Westafer said both she and the patient could hear the comments through the curtain.

"I could not stand up to them in that moment because of the power dynamics I had. I was worried about being outed. Nobody knew my my sexual orientation. I only had a year there. I didn't want to ruin it...ruin my grades" she said. " I felt that those things were in jeopardy. So this study is sort of me trying to fix the guilt that I've carried for the past ten years from that."

The study surveyed 24 physicians across the country who identify as transgender, nonbinary, or both. Westafer says these findings signal a need for systemic change within the field.

Updated: July 1, 2022 at 11:40 AM EDT
Update: A thread on Twitter created by Dr. Laura Westafer has been embedded into the story.
Nirvani Williams covers socioeconomic disparities for New England Public Media, joining the news team in June 2021 through Report for America.
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