There are far too many homophobic doctors and nurses

As a registered nurse and health care writer and editor for more than 25 years, I routinely wrote or assigned stories to other writers about the health of LGBT individuals.  I valued these stories not only because I was a nurse, but also because I thought the subject was worthy of coverage. I believed our nurse readers should be aware of the specific health needs of their LGBT patients.

I followed LGBT issues even more closely when my son told my husband and I that he was gay about four years ago. At that time, I was working again as a nurse. Unfortunately, I quickly realized to my dismay and disappointment that there are far too many homophobic health care providers.

It never occurred to me that some physicians and nurses might discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered individuals. I am pretty certain that during my nursing education I was taught to be nonjudgmental and to care for the physical and emotional needs of all my patients, no matter who they were or how I might personally feel about them. And as a journalist, it was hammered into my head to be objective and to gather the facts wherever the story may lead. My opinions didn’t count.

I do not understand how any physician or nurse will not provide appropriate care to LGBT people. But apparently it happens. A quick internet search of LGBT and health found recent article about health care’s lack of knowledge and appropriate treatment of LGBT individuals.  The stories confirmed what I had experienced since my son came out.

For example, my wonderful women’s health nurse practitioner says she sees many patients who are lesbians because other OB/GYN practices make them feel uncomfortable or won’t see them at all.

A couple of years ago I attended a session about LGBT health at an Equality Illinois conference. An RN educator from the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago told the attendees that she had used a federal grant to develop a training program about LGBT health needs for nurses. She traveled to different hospitals around the Midwest offering the program. But few people showed up at her presentations, she lamented. She was told that nurses weren’t interested.

I am open about my son’s sexuality in my professional, as well as personal life. When I hear a homophobic comment or statement, I don’t stand idly by, whether people like it or not. I risked fracturing a work relationship with an OB/GYN when she made a derogatory statement about lesbians. I told her my son was gay and that I did not appreciate her misguided beliefs.

Another time I had a heated discussion with a colleague about homosexuality in the middle of the clinic. The other nurses stood around stunned, not sure what to do. I was not about to back down to the other nurse’s statements implying my son was a sinner because he is gay. Finally, the office manager interceded and said we should stop since neither of us was willing to cede to the other.

Later that day, the nurse I had argued with, and whom I otherwise really like, came to me with tears in her eyes and said she did not mean to upset me. I told her my son was a wonderful, caring young man and that I just wanted her to rethink what her church had told her to believe about gay people.

Ironically, the over-the-top publicity Olympian Bruce Jenner received when he revealed he wanted to become transgendered Caitlyn Jenner brought renewed attention about the health care needs of LGBT people. And the medical profession seems to be paying attention.

My internet search also found articles that reflected similar sentiments to an editorial in the July 21, 2015 issue of Annals of  Internal Medicine: “Imagine how much better prepared the health care workforce would be to provide competent care to LGBT patients if all medical schools were to follow the recommendations of the American Association of Medical Colleges recent publication: ‘Implementing Curricular and Institutional Climate Changes to Improve Health Care for Individuals Who Are LGBT, Gender Nonconforming, or Born with DSD.’”

I hope that if my son should one day be your patient, you would treat him with the same degree of medical knowledge, respect, and caring that you provide to your straight patients.

Janet Boivin is a nurse.

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