Few people enjoy the experience of going to the doctor’s office. For many, it elicits a sense of anxiety and apprehension. Individuals in the LGBTQ community may feel particularly vulnerable and have the added challenge of finding an inclusive medical provider who is respectful and knowledgeable about the cultural complexities of queer and trans identities. It can also be a daunting task to sort through a list of unfamiliar provider names while simultaneously navigating the intricacies of our healthcare system. Here are some things to consider when searching for an LGBTQ affirmative healthcare provider.
There are several types of licensed healthcare providers and a variety of titles and credentials. When selecting a healthcare provider, you may want to prioritize their experience with LGBTQ clients over their educational background. Outlined below are some of the provider types you may run into:
Physicians attend four years of medical school after their undergraduate training, followed by three to seven years of residency in a specialty area. Examples of medical specialties include family practice, OB/GYN, dermatology, cardiology, pediatrics, and surgery. Physicians are able to provide care to a wide range of both low and high risk patients and will refer out to other physicians as needed.
Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse-Midwives, and Physician Assistants
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs) are licensed providers who first become Registered Nurses (RNs) and then go on to complete either a master’s or doctoral degree. Physician Assistants (PAs) also have graduate-level training and hold a similar scope of practice to NPs and CNMs. These three types of healthcare providers are considered “advanced practice clinicians” and are able to assess, diagnose, order diagnostic tests, write prescriptions, and treat a range of client health concerns. Some of the services they may provide include: primary care, annual exams, GYN care, sexual/reproductive health counseling, birth control provision, preconception/fertility treatment, and gender affirming care including hormones for transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals. Advanced practice clinicians may also refer patients to physicians in various specialties as needed.
There are a number of sites that host databases with lists of local queer and trans-knowledgeable providers. Several national examples include Rad Remedy, World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH), QSpaces, OutCare Health, and Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA). Many cities have local list-serves, registries, social media platforms, and online forums catering to their local queer community. These social media outlets can be a means to connect with others in your area and obtain invaluable first-hand reviews. LGBTQ organizations such as PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) or local support groups may also have ideas if you reach out to them directly. Similarly, student health services and LGBTQ+ clubs at colleges and universities often keep a list of resources for their students. Finally, local therapists or mental health organizations specializing in work with LGBTQ people may refer clients to queer-competent healthcare providers.
Once you have compiled a list of potential providers, it is important to know the provider’s experience-level with treating LGBTQ patients as well as their philosophical approach to the care they provide. Sometimes people find that “LGBTQ-friendly” does not always translate to “LGBTQ-experienced.” This can be particularly relevant to trans, non-binary, and GNC community members, as fewer providers overall have the requisite training, education, and experience with gender identity. For this reason, you may still want to do your own research when using databases, as many lists use self-reported information from the providers themselves.
Everyone deserves to find a healthcare provider who recognizes and honors a diverse array of identities, families, relationships, and lifestyle structures without judgement. The patient-provider relationship should also be focused on informed consent and collaborative decision-making, which returns the power to the patient. However, finding this person may require both interviewing multiple clinicians and advocating for yourself. Although the idea may feel intimidating, it’s more than okay to give your provider feedback or ask them to conduct an exam in a specific way that may make you feel more at ease. You might also consider transferring care if you aren’t comfortable with your current provider—they are the ones providing a service to you. Listening to the actual experiences of community members and tailoring care to the identified needs of these individuals should be a priority for all clinicians.
Thankfully, it’s becoming easier than ever for LGBTQ people to find access to quality care if you know where to look. Although the search for a quality healthcare provider can be tedious and overwhelming, remember that your physical and mental health are always worth the investment.
Signey Olson is a DC-based nurse practitioner and nurse-midwife whose work focuses on providing inclusive care to her queer community. She works primarily in GYN, fertility, and trans-affirming care.