Nfld. & Labrador

Transgender health clinics coming to Gander

Dr. Mari-Lynne Sinnott says transgender clinics are needed in central Newfoundland in order to reduce barriers to health care.

St. John's doctor says service is needed in central Newfoundland

Dr. Mari-Lynne Sinnott says trans and gender diverse people face a variety of medical barriers, including a lack of family doctors who understand their health care needs. (Gary Locke/CBC)

A St. John's doctor will begin offering regular clinic hours in Gander in order to meet demand for services for transgender and gender diverse patients in central Newfoundland. 

Central Health asked Dr. Mari-Lynne Sinnott, a family physician who works with trans patients at Clinic 215 in St. John's, to start offering regular clinics in Gander.

"Of course my answer is yes, because I just would do anything I could to make sure that people can access the care that they desperately need," Sinnott told CBC Radio's Central Morning Show Wednesday.

There are many reasons why a patient who is transgender or gender diverse might need care from a doctor like her, said Sinnott, who had specialized training in just such care.

Dr. Sinnott sees about 200 trans and gender diverse patients at Clinic 215 in St. John's. (Katie Breen/CBC)

One of the issues is not related to being trans or gender diverse, but instead to a wider problem with health care in Newfoundland and Labrador — a lack of family doctors.

Some of the care she offers could, in theory, be offered by family doctors, but some patients simply do not have one, Sinnott said.

The other issue is that a trans patient's family doctor may feel unqualified to offer the care they need or, in some cases, reject the patient's request for transition care.

"There are lots of family doctors that are having those conversations and doing great with the patients that they have," Sinnott said.

Transition care hasn't historically been included in regular medical school curriculum, she said.

"I think there are a lot of family doctors who are extremely supportive but don't necessarily feel like they have the knowledge base to provide complete and safe care, so they're looking to other people to supplement that."

What is transition care?

 A physician like Sinnott can work with a patient in conjunction with their regular family doctor and many patients eventually return to their regular physicians for ongoing care.

Some patients are looking for social support through the process of coming out and transitioning, which can include legal support — changing the name and gender on official documents, for example.

People go through this process and become who they truly are and feel happy, often for the first time in their lives- Dr. Mari-Lynne Sinnott

Others undertake medical transition, which can involve provisional hormones or puberty blockers. And doctors are getting more questions about surgical transition with gender reassignment surgery as the procedures become more widely available, Sinnott said.

"People do require surgical readiness assessments and referrals to the appropriate surgeons, and often a lot of support and counselling around that process."

'Overwhelming number' of patients 

Sinnott works with more than 200 trans and gender diverse patients at her clinic in St. John's and predicted the demand for trans-focused health care is needed in Gander too.

"I've had an overwhelming number of people coming to my clinic in St. John's," she said.

"It's been really amazing to watch people go through this process and become who they truly are and feel happy, often for the first time in their lives."

With files from Central Morning