AORN Blog - The Periop Life

2 Ways to Show a Transgender Patient Respect


The Periop Life - 2 Ways to Show a Transgender Patient Respect

February 7, 2020

Transgender and gender non-conforming patients may defer surgical care to protect their privacy and avoid facing bias. When these patients do proceed with a surgical procedure, a positive first encounter with the perioperative nurse can help to alleviate anxiety and fears of discrimination.

That’s why Marianne McAuliffe, DNP, RN, peri-anesthesia educator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, is working to educate perioperative nurses on simple actions that can help create trust with this patient population.

“Nurses are often confused about how to address a transgender patient,” McAuliffe says.

Based on research she conducted in 2018 for her doctoral degree, she learned that nurses often face challenges during their first encounter with a transgender patient.

Here are two ways nurses can start the conversation:

  1. Ask your patient their preferred name and pronoun (and document it)

Although some medical records may have current information, many may list a given or legal name that is different from what the patient prefers to be called. So, prior to meeting the patient, take a close look at the patient record to see if something cues you in to the patient being transgender and check if there is a preferred name listed anywhere, she suggests.

“Next, greet the patient by asking them for their preferred name. Just this simple question lets a patient know you are interested in them as a person, which starts a trusting nurse and patient relationship. Then document their preferred name in the chart so subsequent providers use it.”

Learning the preferred name will also help with knowing what pronoun to use in speaking about the patient to the family and other providers, she adds.

  1. Reassure their privacy

Transgender patients can be very protective of their physical and emotional privacy, so they may be less likely to talk or share about themselves when they meet a new provider.

“Reassure your patient that as their perioperative nurse, you will make sure they are safe and will be protected throughout the procedure—just a few words of comfort and reassurance will go a long way to set your patient at ease,” McAuliffe stresses.

She also tells nurses to be aware of their unconscious bias when caring for a transgender or gender non-conforming patient. “Thinking proactively about how we interact with this patient population provides an important opportunity for growth to change our behavior.”

Build your skills to care for transgender patients by attending McAuliffe’s session “The Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Patient (TGNP): A Roadmap for Respect” at AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo on March 28 at 1:30pm.

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