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The Importance of Coming Out to your Health Care Provider

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The Importance of Coming Out to your Health Care Provider

Dr. Nicole Thomas-Sealey explains how coming out to your health care provider can help improve your preventative care.

07/02/2021
Mature male patient sitting on exam table  in discussion with doctor in exam room

As Pride Month officially comes to a close, AdvantageCare Physicians would like to take this opportunity to explore why it’s important to come out to your health care provider. It’s your choice who you share your identity with—and your doctor’s responsibility to create a safe environment where you feel comfortable—but sharing with your doctor could give them a better understanding of the type of care you should receive.

Dr. Nicole Thomas-Sealey, Vice President of Clinical Training and Education, discusses why it’s important to start the dialogue about your identity with your doctor. Dr. Thomas-Sealey is a leading voice and educator who developed cultural competency training programs to teach clinical staff how to better identify and overcome unconscious bias and how to improve communication with the communities we serve.

 

As a physician, do you have any stories that have stood out to you that highlighted the importance of creating a safe environment for patients to come out?

 

I had a patient who, when they first came into my office, I could immediately feel the tension in the room. I said, “please forgive me, but I'd like to ask you some questions, so I can help understand you and your needs better. Tell me your story.” He had mentioned that he was assigned female at birth but identifies as male. He came out as a high schooler several decades ago, but eventually went back into the closet due to the negative reaction of his peers at school. Fast forward, and he ended up becoming a patient of mine and did not disclose his transgender identity, but I saw breast tissue on his exam, which I knew could be a sensitive topic. So, I said to him, “I see that you have breast tissue. Tell me more about that because I’d like to help you understand the care that’s available to you.”

 

If I had not asked the question, several doors would have been closed to services and options that a patient should know about. Patients have the final say on what they are willing to share, but as a physician, you still must have a conversation. From that, I was able to share with him that he should consider a mammogram because it’s still important to check for something that may not be normal. He was open to the suggestion, and we ended up having a really good conversation where the patient left with a smile on his face. I don’t want my patients to feel like they must fight their way through or over-explain to get their point across. As a provider at AdvantageCare Physicians, it’s part of our mission to create an environment where patients can share their full selves.

 

What are some of the ways medical practices like AdvantageCare Physicians are working to help patients feel more supported in coming out?  

 

Cultural competence and addressing unconscious bias in health care is important. That’s why I designed a training course to examine and teach what constitutes bias and how biases affect medical professionals’ behaviors and interactions with colleagues and patients. The course, which will be offered to all AdvantageCare Physicians staff, helps increase self-awareness and determines subconsciously held biases.

 

AdvantageCare Physicians rejects racism, prejudice, and bigotry of all kinds. We strive to recognize our unconscious biases and learn from them. We work to foster inclusion and equity and are committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment as we care for our members, patients, and customers. If you have questions or concerns about coming out or need other social services, our team at AdvantageCare Physicians can point you in the right direction.