Yukon trains health professionals in caring for transgender patients

Dozens of Yukon physicians and nurse practitioners are in a course this week in Whitehorse on providing compassionate and culturally sensitive care to transgender people.

'It means a lot to me, that this is happening,' says transgender advocate in Yukon

'The work is always the burden of the patient. So you know, we're working to change that,' said transgender advocate Andrea Stratis. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Andrea Stratis, a transgender advocate and consultant in Yukon, says it can be hard for transgender people to find information relevant to their specific health needs — even at their doctor's office.

"I had to educate my doctor, like I brought him documents and said, 'You know, this is what we're going to do.' And [he] and I sort of made a plan together," said Stratis. "The work is always the burden of the patient. So, we're working to change that."

That's why Stratis is excited to participate in some training sessions happening in Whitehorse this week for local health care professionals. It's being conducted by the non-profit World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), and it's all paid for by the Yukon government.

Gail Knudson is the president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and teaches medicine at the University of British Columbia. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

The three-day course begins Thursday, and it's only the second time it's been offered anywhere in Canada. About 80 Yukon health professionals, including physicians and nurse practitioners, have been invited to participate.

"We're here to kind of train people, learn from the people that are here, and to try to bolster the knowledge that's already here, so that people will have increased access to care," said Gail Knudson, president of WPATH.

Knudson says transgender people can face many barriers in the health system. It could be a physician who refuses them proper care, or simply doesn't know enough about things like hormone therapy. Or, it could be a health-care professional who misidentifies someone or "outs" them to other people.

"Sometimes people are very reluctant to access care, because they're afraid that their privacy will be invaded," said Knudson. 

"So it's important to do education and training for people in the health care community, in order to be respectful towards peoples' transition. And you know, everybody has their own path to transition, and it's really important to respect that path and to affirm their gender goals."

'It was extremely challenging'

Chase Blodgett, a transgender human rights advocate and the president and founder of All Genders Yukon Society, says having this training offered in the territory is "incredible."

"Our members have been lobbying for this for years," said Blodgett.

"When I started my transition in 2014, I was one of the first in the territory to do so ... it was extremely challenging to try to access the care that I needed. And my doctor went above and beyond.

"But you know, without this training, the best we can hope for is to have a doctor who says, 'I don't know anything, but I'm willing to try' — because it's not covered in medical schools."

'When I started my transition in 2014 ... it was extremely challenging to try to access the care that I needed,' said Chase Blodgett, president of of All Genders Yukon. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Blodgett will take part in some of the training, speaking to participants about some of the non-medical challenges transgender people can face in their lives. 

"People may not understand that if you come out as trans, you may lose your support network, you could lose your job, you can lose your family, you could lose your friends.

"Having that one supportive person, such as your physician or a nurse practitioner ... could make all the difference in the world, in terms of moving forward." 

According to Blodgett, the government's decision to offer the course, and cover all the costs — a first in Canada — shows that Yukon is setting precedents "for what inclusion looks like."

Stratis agrees, saying it shows the government is not just paying lip service to transgender inclusion.

"I don't want to speak for the rest of the trans community, obviously, but for me personally, yeah — it means a lot to me, that this is happening."

With files from Chris Windeyer