My 2010 web history is the only thing more personal than my list of visible-to-sender-and-recipient-only Venmo charges. The Google search bar was first to know when I was I was planning to have sex with another woman for the first time. Sure, I learned some important information, but I had a lot of questions—specifically about how to have safe queer sex (no banana, no condom, ya feel?).
At my next appointment, I asked my gynecologist for her advice. Her response? Basically, bleerblbleeebllblbeeelblbleeelbbbl (or, the sound you can make when you put your finger on your lips and move it up and down really fast).
Talking about my specific sexual experiences with my gynecologist usually has me asking, “Am I teaching you, or are you treating me?”
Within the last nine years I’ve visited to the doctor enough to know this is hardly an anomaly. Many healthcare professionals—especially those of the cis, hetero, and male-identifying variety—are about as clueless about LGBT healthcare needs as I am about walking in barbie heels. (Read: very).
Even now, I have a gynecologist who is totally knowledgeable when it comes to most things regarding the state of my vagina, but talking about my specific sexual experiences with this particular physician usually has me asking myself, “Am I teaching you or are you treating me?” (Yes, I’m in the market for a new one.)
Last week, a survey published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found what I (and I’d argue most queer folks) have learned through lived experience: Most doctors aren’t confident in their knowledge of LGBTQ+ patient needs and health concerns.
“It’s not a patient issue. We should not expect people who identify as[LGBTQ+] to train us about what their needs are.” —Gwendolyn Quinn, PhD
Researchers surveyed over 450 oncologists—surprise, surprise, mostly heterosexual men—from the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) designated cancer centers in the United States to assess knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and willingness to be educated about LGBTQ+ patients (specifically, cancer patients). They received responses from 149 of them. Survey questions included things like: Are you aware that women who have never had sex with a man are still at risk for which is linked to several types of cancer? (BTW, they are!)
The survey suggests that while the majority (95 percent) of oncologists say they’re comfortable treating individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, only 39 percent actually felt they possessed the knowledge needed to treat said patients’ specific health needs.
“It’s not a patient issue,” Gwendolyn Quinn, PhD, author of the study and professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University, told CBS News. “We should not expect people who identify as [LGBTQ+] to train us about what their needs are.” The obligation to improve healthcare provider knowledge and confidence, she says, falls on institutions and providers.
One possible reason the confidence rate is so low is that medical schools didn’t begin incorporating LGBTQ+-specific care into their curriculums until 2010. That’s why Dr. Quinn and the other study authors recommend that workers at all levels of the healthcare industry receive training on how to better care for LGBTQ+ folks. They also recommend that cancer centers create a safe environment for patients to disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as establish protocols for treating LGBTQ+ cancer patients. I’ll go ahead and add that OB/GYN offices should follow suit.
If highlighting the gap in healthcare-provider knowledge around health concerns within the LGBTQ+ community might lead to more inclusive provider training and therefore more effective treatment for all folks, I’m glad for it. But until an actual intervention is in the works, the resources already in place for LGBTQ+ people may be useful. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s (GLMA) provider directory, GBLT Near Me’s database for local resources for LGBTQ+ people, and Planned Parenthood are good places to start.
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