USU study shows clinicians lack knowledge of transgender health care

A Utah State University study found 1 in 4 transgender and nonbinary individuals report having to teach medical providers about their health care needs.

A Utah State University study found 1 in 4 transgender and nonbinary individuals report having to teach medical providers about their health care needs. (joker1991, Shutterstock)

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LOGAN — A new study that includes Utah State University researchers highlights a lack of health care providers who are well versed in transgender care.

The sociology study found that 1 in 4 transgender and nonbinary individuals report having to teach medical providers about their health care needs, which is in turn associated with self-rated poorer health and psychological distress.

The study relied on data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. With over 27,700 respondents, the survey was the largest ever devoted to transgender individuals. A 2022 survey has yet to be released.

The research builds on previous research into health outcomes for transgender people, which found transgender people are already more likely to report worse health outcomes than their cisgender counterparts.

"We stop short at suggesting the education of clinicians alone will improve the mental and overall health of transgender people," the study states. "Importantly, other factors contribute to the adverse health outcomes of transgender patients. Restrictive state policy environments are associated with poor health and less access to care for transgender people. Experiences of discrimination, stigmatization, and gender minority stress outside the health care context are also associated with negative health outcomes."

One of the study authors, Guadalupe Marquez-Velarde of USU's Department of Sociology and Anthropology, said the study is particularly timely given the hundreds of recent bills that target transgender and nonbinary individuals, particularly youth. Ten such bills, four of which passed, were introduced in Utah. The most prominent was SB16, which made Utah the first state to ban transgender-related treatments for minors earlier this year.

Transgender individuals make up an estimated 1.4% of U.S. youth and 0.5% of adults, according to the UCLA Williams Institute, a research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. In Utah, it says the numbers are 0.83% and 0.6% respectively.

Marquez-Velarde hopes that the study's publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association will mean the research reaches medical educators overseeing clinician training.

"We want this message to get to the actual people who are going to be treating transgender and nonbinary individuals," Marquez-Velarde said. "Medical students need to know about sexual and gender minorities, just as they need to know about racial and ethnic minorities."

Marquez-Velarde's work has focused on how systems of inequality, such as racism and transphobia, impact physical and mental health outcomes.

USU doctoral student Mudasir Mustafa, who participated in the study's peer-review process, is used to researching health disparities among marginalized populations. However, Mustafa but had not previously considered transgender populations as a separate category.

"The findings of this research highlighted that there is a need to investigate the health disparities among the nonbinary population," Mustafa said, "and (to consider) them as separate populations in order to propose effective strategies to mitigate the social and health inequalities."

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Sydnee Chapman Gonzalez is a reporter and recent Utah transplant. She works at the Utah Investigative Journalism Project and was previously at and the Wenatchee World in Washington. Her reporting has focused on marginalized communities, homelessness and local government. She grew up in Arizona and has lived in various parts of Mexico. During her free time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, rock climbing and embroidery.


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