In today’s interview, Sandra discusses some of the intricacies of working with transitioning patients, her path in working with the LGBTQ+ community, and her new course with H&W. Transgender Patients: Pelvic Health and Orthopedic Considerations is a remote course created by Sandra Gallagher and Caitlin Smigelski. This course provides specific content aimed at teaching pelvic health therapists how to expand their skills for working with people of all gender identities.
Sandra Gallagher has served on varied committees and boards at the state and national level, most recently as the chair of the CAPP-OBC committee for the Academy of Pelvic Health of the APTA. She has presented on the role of PT in gender-affirming vaginoplasty at UCSF Transgender Health Summit, APTA Combined Sections Meeting, and at the 2018 international meeting of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).
In a research study that Sandra facilitated with other colleagues, it was concluded that “Pelvic floor physical therapists identify and help patients resolve pelvic floor-related problems before and after surgery. We find strong support for pelvic floor PT for patients undergoing gender-affirming vaginoplasty.”(1)
Often therapists think of genital surgeries and sexual function when contemplating work with transgender people. However, therapists have far more to offer transgender patients. For providing optimal care, knowledge of the intricacies of gender transition is essential.
Join H&W on October 30th for Transgender Patients: Pelvic Health and Orthopedic Considerations to learn more about gender-affirming genital surgeries and medical interventions that people transitioning might choose.
Brianna Durand, PT, DPT is the author and instructor of Inclusive Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities, a new remote course. Brianna's first course date is June 12-13, 2021.
Over the last five years, there has been a groundswell in the recognition that healthcare for those in the LGBTQ+ community has been, at best, incredibly lacking & the world of physical therapy is no exception. Fortunately, this growing awareness is being followed by tangible efforts to improve the quality of care provided to this population as evidenced by the formation of PT Proud, a Catalyst Group in the APTA, & a growing body of research to address the unique needs of LGBTQ+ patients. Hermann & Wallace is even offering its first-ever 2-day course solely focused on treating patients who are gender diverse!
However, it is not uncommon for people to feel overwhelmed by all of the changing terminology & fear of accidentally offending someone. Thus, despite good intentions, many providers find themselves avoiding education & discussion of this topic altogether. The problem with this is that every clinician will inevitably encounter someone who is LGBTQ+ & merely “treating everyone the same '' may inadvertently end up causing harm. This is especially pertinent to pelvic health practitioners as we work on highly personal & vulnerable areas of the body. There are countless reasons why it is a worthwhile endeavor to share your knowledge on this topic which is discussed more thoroughly in a blog post I wrote a few years ago (here), but this post will focus more on practical takeaways that you can implement in your practice.
As mentioned earlier, the terminology can be intimidating; let's break them below into two categories: gender and sexual minorities:
*Non-binary folks may also undergo various gender affirmation surgeries & /or take hormones.
There can be many combinations of the terms above. Someone could identify internally as male but live outwardly as a woman for a variety of reasons including safety, cost of transition, etc. Also, gender & sexual orientation do not always pair up in a heteronormative fashion. A person could be cisgender & bisexual (a woman AFAB attracted to both men & women) or transgender & lesbian (a transwoman AMAB attracted to women). Furthermore, not all people who are transgender have surgery or undergo hormone therapy, but this does not change their gender identity. Some helpful visuals to understand these ideas are the Gender Unicorn (here) & the Genderbread Person (here).
Now that you have some context to work with, what else can you do to put patients at ease?
Ultimately, the best method to providing compassionate and competent care is to minimize your assumptions. There are many things you can do in your day-to-day interactions with patients to convey that you are trying to open up your worldview. For example, if you find yourself assuming someone’s gender identity based on their name or appearance, I’d challenge you to practice using the gender-neutral they/them pronoun until you learn how they identify. If you are unsure, it is okay to privately ask them! This is far less triggering than misgendering someone. Another common microaggression is assuming a patient’s partner’s gender based on heteronormative values. Try using the terms “spouse” or “partner” when talking to a patient about their loved one(s). It may seem banal to you, but your LGBTQ+ patients will notice.
Disclaimer: I can only represent the part of the community that I identify with. The views expressed are my informed opinions & may not be generalizable to all LGBTQ+ persons. I am thankful to be given a platform to address a topic that is so rarely discussed, but if I have made any errors or misrepresentations, please correct me!
My new course will provide a safe space to ask all the questions about caring for LGBTQ+ patients and practicing the skills needed to help advance your practice. Join me for Inclusive Care for Gender and Sexual Minorities.
Herman & Wallace is excited to announce an upcoming course on pelvic rehab for the gender diverse patient, written and instructed by Dr. Laura Meihofer, DPT, ATC. As Dr. Meihofer indicated in a recent blog, "[t]he number of individuals who identify as transgender is growing each year. The Williams Institute estimated in 2016 that 0.6% of the U.S. population or roughly 1.4 million people identified as transgender (Flores, 2016)... With the rise of individuals who identify as transgender, gender non-binary and intersex, healthcare professionals have equally seen an influx of patients who require care throughout their discovery and transition."
The new course from Dr. Meihofer is called "Gender Diversity and Pelvic Health: Comprehensive Care for Transgender Men and Women", and it will be debuting on May 29-31, 2020 in Livingston, NJ.
Dr. Meihofer was kind enough to share some thoughts about the new course, her practice, and herself with The Pelvic Rehab Report. Thank you, Laura!
Tell us about yourself, Laura!
My name is Laura Meihofer and I’ve been a physical therapist for 7 years. I work at Mayo Clinic and I see patients throughout the gender spectrum who most commonly struggle with pelvic floor dysfunctions relating to overactive muscles such as: chronic and acute pelvic pain, urinary frequency/urgency/incontinence/hesitancy, constipation, pain with intercourse, low back and hip pain.
What can you tell us about your new course, "Gender Diversity and Pelvic Health"?
Currently there are roughly 1.25 million transgender identified individuals in the United States and this number is growing. This course will help to dispel the idea of “other” when treating this demographic and demonstrate how much sameness there is when treating pelvic floor dysfunction.
These skills will greatly benefit any practice as this population is so underserved, they are looking for allies that are not just nice but competent. When you are able to successfully treat gender diverse patients, they spread the word about the great care they received and you now have a strong referral base. Taking this course opens up a whole new referral base of amazing people.
This course will not only feature videos from thought leaders in the field but will also highlight testimonials from patients and caregivers who have undergone their own gender transitions.
What essential skills does your course add to a practitioner’s toolkit?
I think the most important technique that attendees will learn will be how to assess a trans women and trans man after they have undergoing genital reconstruction surgery. Attendees will gain competence in the care of the gender diverse patient at any stage during their gender transition.
What was your inspiration to create this course for trans-identified patients?
Working at a major medical institution, I found that it was difficult finding providers in a patient’s area that were competent in care of a transgender patient. As I talked more and more with various physical therapists I realized they were thirsty for knowledge on how to serve these individuals. So I created the course!
What prepared you to create this course?
The most important thing I have done for this course is treat hundreds of patients who are trans identified throughout their gender journey. This allowed me to not only see all the medical interventions they went through but also to hear their personal journey of transition. These experiences expanded my empathy for what they go through and inspired me to search within myself on how I can be better for them. This desire to improve opened a creative well inside of me from which this course grew.
Discuss the effect conditions covered in your course have on a patient’s quality of life, your experience treating patients with this condition, and how their quality of life has increase after successful treatment.
Individuals who identify as transgender suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction just like our cis gender folks. There is no current data to capture the prevalence of pelvic floor issues in this specific population to date, however there is research to support the overall lack of care these individuals receive. Based on the results from the U.S. Transgender Survey which surveyed 28,000 respondents, the numbers in the health care field were staggering.
33% of respondents had at LEAST one negative experience with a health care provider in the last year due to being transgender. Negative experiences were qualified as verbal harassment, refusal of treatment or having to teach the health care provider about transgender people to receive appropriate care. 23% of respondents did not see a doctor when they needed to due to fear of being mistreated as a transgender person.
This course aims has two primary aims:
1) Educate providers on the unique concerns that transgender individuals experience related to hormone replacement and surgical techniques.
2) Equip attendees to provide competent care for this demographic
Join Dr. Meihofer for Gender Diversity and Pelvic Health this May 29-31, 2020 in Livingston, NJ!
The number of individuals who identify as transgender is growing each year. The Williams Institute estimated in 2016 that 0.6% of the U.S. population or roughly 1.4 million people identified as transgender (Flores, 2016). This was a 50% increase from a 2011 survey which estimated only 0.3% or 700,000 people identified as transgender (Gates, 2011). Though these numbers are growing each year, due to increased visibility and social acceptance, it is presumed that these numbers are underreported due to inadequate survey methods, stigma/fear associated with “coming out” and deficient definitions of the multitude of options for gender identity (Flores, 2016).
With the rise of individuals who identify as transgender, gender non-binary and intersex, healthcare professionals have equally seen an influx of patients who require care throughout their discovery and transition. Though medical intervention for these individuals is not new, the first documented surgery was in 1922 to Dora Richter, it has often been segmented and lacking in evidence-based treatment strategies (“Dora Richter,”2019). In 1979 The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) was founded and published their first version of the Standards of Care (SOC) for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People (“WPATH,” 2019). Currently, WPATH is on their seventh version of the SOC which is opening doors for the treatment of this population.
Though organizations such as WPATH have attempted to standardized care, the patient experience and reception of quality care are significantly lacking. In 2015 the National Center for Transgender Equality performed a groundbreaking survey of 27,215 respondents with the aim to “understand the lives and experiences of transgender people in the United States and the disparities that many transgender people face” (“About,”n.d., para. 1). This survey revealed that 33% of individuals who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2015). Negative experiences included; being refused treatment, verbal harassment, physically or sexually assault, and teaching the provider about transgender people in order to get appropriate care (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2015). Alternatively, 23% of respondents did not see a doctor when they needed to because of fear of being mistreated as a transgender person (National Center for Transgender Equality, 2015). Though these statistics are staggering and affronting there is hope for a better future.
Research for the care of these patients, specifically related to pelvic floor physical therapy, is on the rise. In the Annals of Plastic Surgery, an article was published with the purpose to capture incidence and severity of pelvic floor dysfunction pre-surgery, monitor any progression of symptoms with standardized outcome measures and highlight the role of physical therapy in the treatment of patients undergoing vaginoplasty (Manrique, et al., 2019). While in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology a retrospective case series similarly focused on physical therapy pre and post-operatively highlighting dilator selection and success, pelvic floor dysfunction including bowel and bladder as well as reported abuse history (Jiang, Gallagher, Burchill, Berli, & Dugi, 2019). Through articles such as these clinicians can expect an uptick in calls questioning if they treat these patients. This begs the question of, "How can you best prepare?"
The answer is simple, attend continuing education. It is where you can not only learn evidence-based evaluation and treatment but also connect with other providers and mentors that care for these patients. In 2020 Herman & Wallace will be offering a continuing education course that serves this exact purpose. Keep your eyes on next years offerings, as spaces will surely fill quickly.
About. (n.d.). Retrieved May 15, 2019, from http://www.ustranssurvey.org/about
Dora Richter. (2019, May 09). Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dora_Richter
Jiang, D. D., Gallagher, S., Burchill, L., Berli, J., & Dugi, D. (2019). Implementation of a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Program for Transgender Women Undergoing Gender-Affirming Vaginoplasty. Obstetrics & Gynecology,133(5), 1003-1011. doi:10.1097/aog.0000000000003236
Manrique, O. J., Adabi, K., Huang, T. C., Jorge-Martinez, J., Meihofer, L. E., Brassard, P., & Galan, R. (2019). Assessment of Pelvic Floor Anatomy for Male-to-Female Vaginoplasty and the Role of Physical Therapy on Functional and Patient-Reported Outcomes. Annals of Plastic Surgery,82(6), 661-666. doi:10.1097/sap.0000000000001680
National Center for Transgender Equality. (2015). Annual report of the U.S. Transgender Survey. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Executive-Summary-Dec17.pdf
Wpath. (n.d.). Standards of Care version 7. Retrieved May 15, 2019, from https://www.wpath.org/publications/soc