CAHS partners to host an educational event dedicated to transgender health

Equity and Access for Transgender Health event brings focus and attention

The idea to host an event dedicated to transgender health came to Savannah Shanley last summer while she was running on a treadmill at Planet Fitness. A student in UC’s Speech Language Hearing Sciences program, Shanley was collecting data on treatment trends of gender-diverse patients during the COVID-19 pandemic at the Voice & Swallow Mechanics Lab at UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences when she recognized a need for increased community education on gender diversity. 

“A lot of patients we surveyed said they didn’t know how to access certain gender healthcare treatments, or they had insurance problems, mental health issues, or a lack of social support,” recalls Shanley, who will earn her bachelor’s degree this month.

How cool would it be to have an event dedicated to gender-diverse people where professionals can share ways to access treatment, what to do if you don’t have insurance, and things like that while also educating cisgender people on gender diversity?

Savannah Shanley

Shanley immediately shared her idea with Victoria McKenna, PhD, CCC-SLP, who oversees the Voice & Swallow Mechanics Lab and suggested that Shanley pitch the idea as her senior capstone project. With help from McKenna, her capstone student partners Victoria Romano and Cailynn Beck, and her faculty capstone mentor Amy Hobek, PhD, CCC-SLP, Shanley’s idea was brought to life on April 14 with Transforming Healthcare: Equity and Access for Transgender Health, a four-hour in-person event held at UC’s Kresge Auditorium that featured a series of expert speakers, a panel of provider and patient perspectives, and informational exhibitor booths featuring organizations like Equitas Health, a nonprofit healthcare system serving LGBTQ+ patients in the Midwest. 

Professor speaking

Victoria McKenna

Open to all community members and free to attend, the event sought to increase awareness on gender-affirming healthcare services, inequities experienced by transgender patients, and ways to support the local community’s access to health. McKenna says the evening was a huge success and could not have gone better. She spoke at the event about the importance of gender-affirming voice therapy (treatment that helps individuals adapt their voice to align with their identity) and related transgender research being done at the Voice & Swallow Mechanics Lab. 

Having allyship is so important, and the buy-in from the community has been really positive.

Victoria McKenna

“There was such a diversity within the audience; it wasn’t just healthcare providers or speech-language pathologists, but we had nursing professionals, medical students, non-healthcare students, community members, and community groups," says McKenna, who also serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and secondary faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at UC.

McKenna was joined on stage by Sarah Pickle, MD, a physician at UC Health and assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at UC’s College of Medicine, who provided education on the topic of transgender health; and Melanie Thomas-Castillo, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at UC Health and assistant professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at UC’s College of Medicine, who spoke about mental health and barriers to care.

Not only did the audience members’ professions and areas of study vary, but their understanding of transgender health also varied vastly. Some audience members asked questions about terminology like misgendering (this occurs when someone describes a person using language that doesn’t align with their affirmed gender), while other members asked more specific questions, like the medical student who inquired about how to provide affirming care if a patient hasn’t self-identified (affirming care includes assisting patients during gender transition, using the correct pronouns, calling patients by their preferred names, and helping patients access the right care). 

team

(left to right) Cailynn Beck, Victoria Romano, Savannah Shanley

The audience was especially engaged during the panel discussion, which featured unique voices like Malia Schram, a third-year medical student at UC, who spoke about their experience as a transgender person who is vulnerable to experiencing discrimination in the healthcare system as a patient but is equipped and motivated to advocate for other trans patients as a future provider. They also shared how intersectionality and access to education can affect a provider’s ability to advocate for transgender and gender non-conforming patients. 

“Data shows that the less healthcare providers feel comfortable interacting with, supporting, and advocating for trans patients, the worse the patient experience is, and conversely, the more educated, comfortable, and self-advocating providers are, the better the patient experience is,” Schram says. "So, when we have events like these, it allows for a discussion of what it means to be able to advocate and educate.”

At UC College of Medicine, students like Schram learn about gender diversity and how to provide gender-affirming care through the transgender medicine program, which Pickle established in 2016 alongside Aaron Marshall, PhD, from UC’s Department of Medical Education. When the program launched, UC was one of less than 20 universities in the U.S. to offer formal education on transgender medicine. 

Student at event table

Integrating gender diversity into the curriculum and hosting educational events for community members is especially important in a state like Ohio, where healthcare providers can legally refuse to provide services that violate their moral or religious beliefs, McKenna says. Shanley, who will pursue a master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology at UC in the fall, hopes to continue partnering with experts like McKenna and students like Schram to increase awareness on gender diversity at UC and beyond. 

“There’s so much backlash with the transgender community, especially right now with the topic of transgender athletes, so I just want to be a voice for them,” Shanley says. “They need allies, and as a white, cisgender female, I want to show my support for people to be authentically themselves.”