Coming out to your doctor in rural America

From NPR online

Finding the perfect doctor can be a feat for anyone. And a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds that 18 percent of all LGBTQ Americans refrain from seeing a physician for fear of discrimination.

One of those people is 20-year-old Alex Galvan. The moment right before he told his doctor earlier this year that he is gay and sexually active felt like a nightmare. Galvan lives in rural Tulare County in California’s Central Valley. He wanted to start a regimen of medication that helps prevent HIV infection, an approach called “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or PrEP.

Alex Galvan

“Sitting in the waiting room was kind of like, ‘you got this, you’re just asking for a medication to help you,’ ” Galvan says, remembering what was going through his head before he came out to the doctor. “He’s not going to flip out. And then the moment before was, ‘Oh gosh, here it goes.’ ”

His doctor didn’t know about PrEP, and Galvan thought he was going to be rejected. Instead, his physician educated himself.

“I was kind of scared that he didn’t know what it was, but I was also relieved because I let him do most of the research,” Galvan says. “Yeah, and then I cried a little bit in the car, because I didn’t know what just had happened and it all kind of blurred together.”

Pediatrician Kathryn Hall knows about these concerns all too well. She has been practicing medicine in Tulare County for over a decade, and time and time again, her patients tell her they’re afraid to come out to their other doctors. A few years ago, she got so fed up that she surveyed more than 500 nearby doctors asking them basic questions about being welcoming. “I made the bar very, very low because we just didn’t get much education on LGBT health in medical school,” says Hall. “That is starting to change.”

Around 120 doctors responded to Hall’s survey, and most of them said they would be happy to serve this group. Hall says there are lots of ways that doctors can make it clear they’re accepting — a little rainbow flag on the door or taking out ad in a local magazine.

“Many of the physicians that I know are LGBT-friendly, but patients don’t know that and are very afraid that they’re being judged,” Hall says.

Read the full article on NPR.

 

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