Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Educating doctors on the medical needs of all

By Chien Shu-pei and Chuang Hui-Chi 簡舒培,莊蕙綺

Although lesbians have the same biology as heterosexual women, their gender roles, sexual activity and social pressures are vastly different from those of heterosexuals. Because of these differences, the medical needs of lesbians are also distinct.

A gynecologist attending to a lesbian once asked many questions which were irrelevant to her medical inquiries: first her gender, then her means of sexual intercourse, and finally her physical reactions to sexual acts.

All the while, the gynecologist remained wholly ignorant of the fact that these queries, immaterial to her diagnosis or the patient's medical needs, constitute serious violations of personal privacy.

A thorough investigation of the medical experiences of lesbians in the country reveals that sexual orientation has not been incorporated into clinical training of nurses and doctors.

Thus doctors and nurses assume all patients are heterosexual while providing medical services and that medical needs are identical regardless of sexual orientation.

Moreover, long-term social antagonism toward homosexuality causes lesbians to anticipate a different set of social pressures and gender identity issues that induce enormous psychological pressure.

This mental burden, combined with a lack of a supportive social and domestic environment, exposes lesbians to greater risk of doubts over sexual identity, sometimes causing anxiety related disorders such as clinical depression.

In the US sexual orientation has already become a key concept in medical education reform.

As such, medical professionals have been able to provide much more sensitive healthcare to patients of various sexual preferences.

A questionnaire distributed to medical graduates in 2005 by the Association of American Medical Colleges asks, among other things, whether graduates are capable of providing information regarding safe sex to patients of a different sexual orientation from themselves, and whether they have, in the process of their medical training, been discriminated against because of their own sexual preference.

The questionnaire first aims to protect the rights to education of students of all sexual preferences and second aims to examine the level of understanding of sexual preference of healthcare professionals.

Medical education in Taiwan should begin to invest in research regarding the healthcare environment and the physical as well as psychological needs of lesbians.

The Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women's Rights (台北市女權會) has published a handbook on lesbian health (女同志健康手冊), calling upon lesbians to defend their rights to adequate healthcare in the hopes that medical workers and government bodies such as the Department of Health can better understand their needs.

In the future, legislation related to the medical profession should incorporate further consideration for diverse sexual orientations.

The training and education of healthcare professionals should likewise heighten their awareness of sexual diversity so that the next generation of healthcare workers can provide adequate medical information to patients of different sexual orientations.

Only through the implementation of these changes can Taiwan create a friendly medical environment for people of all sexual preferences.

Chien Shu-pei is the secretary-general and Chuang Hui-chi the administrative secretary of the Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women's Rights.

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