Ensuring that members of gender minority groups receive competent, compassionate health care is part of Washington State University Health Sciences’ longtime commitment to serving the underserved.

Gender-affirming health care has been on the curriculum at both the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine for several years. Students are taught concepts of gender, definitions, terminology and cultural competency in addition to medical care.

“I think we are fairly cutting-edge and progressive when it comes to supporting gender-affirming care and teaching regarding gender and sexuality,” said Jaime Bowman, associate professor and clerkship director at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

Cheyenne Newsome, clinical assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, introduced the curriculum in that college after working with transgender patients during her pharmacy residency in New Mexico.

She heard patients’ stories of experiences with health care providers who weren’t supportive or even kind. Because pharmacists have frequent contact with patients who are undergoing hormone therapy, “It’s a great opportunity for pharmacists to make an impact for trans people and be that affirming person,” Newsome said.

After joining WSU, she introduced a 3-hour training that’s part of the required curriculum. That approach puts WSU near the top of pharmacy programs nationwide, said Newsome, who published a survey last year of transgender-care education offered by pharmacy programs across the country.

Bowman, at the WSU College of Medicine, said first- and second-year medical students get a variety of lessons including lectures on sexuality and gender, guidance in talking to patients about how gender affects their health, case studies about patients who identify as nonbinary, and evidence-based learning about caring for patients on the gender spectrum.

Closeup of Jamie Bowman
Jamie Bowman

“I will admit the hard part is that our students come with a wide variety of experience,” Bowman said. “Some of them personally identify on the gender spectrum as nonbinary, while others have never been asked to think about gender as anything other than male and female.”

But students understand that they’ll be working with a variety of patients in their clinical education and in practice, including patients whose sexual orientation or gender orientation may affect their health care needs.

“I have yet to encounter a student who doesn’t understand why we’re talking about it,” Bowman said.

WSU’s Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center in Pullman hosted a Gender Affirming Health Care Symposium last year and planned one for March that was cancelled due to the pandemic. Matthew Jeffries, director of the resource center, said the event is targeted to health care providers who work with WSU students and is a way to support trans people on WSU campuses.

The training is offered as continuing education and covers things like asking questions that are only relevant to the health care issue at hand and honoring a patient’s preferred pronouns.

“We know that when folks are affirmed in their health care they just lead better lives, which isn’t surprising,” Jeffries said.

Bowman said she began caring for transgender and gender nonconforming patients in her medical residency, but “WSU is the first place where I felt like it was safe and supported to think about comprehensive care for all individuals. It was exciting to find a place I could have the kind of conversations I was trained to have.”

This is the first in a series of article to celebrate LGBT Pride Month. The month of June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969.