Klay Noto wants to be the kind of doctor he never had when he began to question his gender identity.
A second-year student at Tulane University in New Orleans, he wants to listen compassionately to patients’ concerns and recognize the hurt when they question who they are. He will be the kind of doctor who knows that a breast exam can be traumatizing if someone has been breast binding or that instructing a patient to take everything off and put on a gown can be triggering for someone with gender dysphoria.
Being in the room for hard conversations is part of why he pursued med school. “There aren’t many LGBT people in medicine and as I started to understand all the dynamics that go into it, I started to see that I could do it and I could be that different kind of doctor,” he told this news organization.
Mr. Noto, who transitioned after college, wants to see more transgender people like himself teaching gender medicine, and for all medical students to be trained in what it means to be transgender and how to give compassionate and comprehensive care to all patients.
Gains have been made in providing curriculum in transgender care that trains medical students in such concepts as how to approach gender identity with sensitivity and how to manage hormone therapy and surgery for transitioning patients who request that, according to those interviewed for this story.
But they agree there’s a long way to go to having widespread medical school integration of the health care needs of about 1.4 million transgender people in the United States.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Curriculum Inventory data collected from 131 U.S. medical schools, more than 65% offered some form of transgender-related education in 2018, and more than 80% of those provided such curriculum in required courses.
Lack of transgender, nonbinary faculty
Jason Klein, MD, is a pediatric endocrinologist and medical director of the Transgender Youth Health Program at New York (N.Y.) University.
He said in an interview that the number of programs nationally that have gender medicine as a structured part of their curriculum has increased over the last 5-10 years, but that education is not standardized from program to program.
The program at NYU includes lecture-style learning, case presentations, real-world conversations with people in the community, group discussions, and patient care, Dr. Klein said. There are formal lectures as part of adolescent medicine where students learn the differences between gender and sexual identity, and education on medical treatment of transgender and nonbinary adolescents, starting with puberty blockers and moving into affirming hormones.
Doctors also learn to know their limits and decide when to refer patients to a specialist.
“The focus is really about empathic and supportive care,” said Dr. Klein, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone Health. “It’s about communication and understanding and the language we use and how to deliver affirming care in a health care setting in general.”
Imagine the potential stressors, he said, of a transgender person entering a typical health care setting. The electronic health record may only have room for the legal name of a person and not the name a person may currently be using. The intake form typically asks patients to check either male or female. The bathrooms give the same two choices.
“Every physician should know how to speak with, treat, emote with, and empathize with care for the trans and nonbinary individual,” Dr. Klein said.
Dr. Klein noted there is a glaring shortage of trans and nonbinary physicians to lead efforts to expand education on integrating the medical, psychological, and psychosocial care that patients will receive.
Currently, gender medicine is not included on board exams for adolescent medicine or endocrinology, he said.
“Adding formal training in gender medicine to board exams would really help solidify the importance of this arena of medicine,” he noted.