Happy New Year! Whether or not you believe in making New Year’s resolutions, the month of January is a fantastic time to take inventory of your health and wellbeing. A simple step you can take to make sure you’re on track to start out the year on a healthy foot is to get a physical.
If it’s been more than a year since your last physical or you’re not sure when you last had one, schedule a physical for this month. During a full physical, a primary care provider will typically check your vital signs (e.g. blood pressure and temperature) and examine your heart, lungs, head and neck, extremities, skin, muscle strength, reflexes, and mental state. Your provider may also prescribe additional screenings and blood tests.
A primary care appointment is also an opportunity for you and your provider to address any health concerns, such as mysterious pains or symptoms, and goals, like losing body fat or quitting smoking. Your provider can discuss these concerns with you and provide you with resources and specialist referrals to address them.
Seeing a doctor can be intimidating for a variety of reasons; for some LGBTQ women, the fear of coming out to a provider or experiencing discrimination adds an extra layer of complexity. Your fear is valid: coming out can be awkward and embarrassing. Feeling unheard or discriminated against feels powerfully painful. But it’s crucial that it doesn’t interfere with your health: you and your body are important, and so are advocating for them.
Be open with your provider about your orientation, gender identity, and sexual activity to make sure you receive the best care and medical advice and as much respect as possible. Though not ideal, you may have to do additional work to educate your provider about your health needs as an LGBTQ person, even if they are LGBTQ-friendly. The visibility and information you offer will help yourself and other LGBTQ people in your community seeking health care.
If you don’t already have an LGBTQ-competent provider or your current provider makes you uncomfortable for any reason, ask to see a different provider within the practice you go to, ask your friends for recommendations, or use one of the provider directories listed at the end of this article. If you’re unable to access an LGBTQ-competent provider and being out is not an option, learn about the health risks commonly faced by LGBTQ women (like alcohol use, depression, and certain cancers) so you can ask questions about them.
Here are organizations with directories for finding LGBTQ-friendly and LGBTQ-competent providers.
(This article was originally posted on January 30, 2019)