Transgender trauma patients: What surgeons need to know

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Seek out training on treating transgender patients

Education on the care of transgender and gender nonbinary population is lacking in both medical schools as well as surgical residencies, and it is often left to individual surgeons to seek out their own training. Unfortunately, this leaves many uncertain how to ask a patient about his/her/their history without making the patient uncomfortable. If we don’t ask the right questions, some patients may not disclose information that could be very detrimental to their care. Documentation in EHRs can be made difficult if the software doesn’t include transgender female, transgender male, and gender nonbinary options in addition to the binary choice of female or male. This can contribute to the misgendering and distress of the patient.

Asking which pronouns a transgender individual uses can be a big first step because it allows that person know that you are being respectful. Be prepared for pronouns you may not be used to: Some may use she/her or he/his, and some may use they/their, ze/hir, ze/zir or xe/xyr. It is important to have appropriate registration forms, gender neutral bathrooms, and respect and discretion from every individual provider for all of our patients. Providers should seek out education and training so that the patients aren’t forced to do the educating themselves. As trauma and acute care surgeons, we are used to caring for a diverse patient population with many unique needs. However, we don’t know enough about the trauma and surgery risks in the transgender and gender nonbinary population as only a limited research has been done. Studies such as this by Dr. Mandell et al. are encouraging and hopefully more will follow.

Andrea Long, MD, is an acute care surgeon and an assistant clinical professor at University of San Francisco, Fresno.



Privacy concerns can be of particular sensitivity. “Care must be taken to maintain privacy for the patient, as others outside of the hospital may not know they are transgender. Consultation with the patient’s primary care provider may be beneficial to determine the extent of gender-affirmation and the patient’s disclosure to family and friends,” the investigator advised. In addition, the clinician needs to establish which if any nonmedical interventions the transgender patients has had. These may include nonprescription hormone therapy and silicone injections.

The encounter should include an evaluation for injury to genitalia. “Transgender patients may have significant dysphoria associated with their preoperative genitals,” Dr. Mandell and his coauthors said. In these cases, “involvement of providers experienced with examination of transgender patients should be sought, if possible.” These patients should be screened for potential abuse by a companion or self-injury, the investigators suggested.

Dr. Mandell and his coauthors also discussed some of the nuances of trauma care for this population. For example, transgender women may need a smaller endotracheal tube for establishing an airway as intubation to avoid damaging surgically altered vocal chords. Other craniofacial alterations can get in the way of establishing an airway. Clinicians also should keep in mind the increased likelihood of a venous thromboembolism from estrogen hormone therapy in immobilized transgender patients in the trauma setting. Implants and surgical alterations can add a layer of complexity to reading images. Anatomical rearrangement can make catheterization challenging.

Dr. Mandell and his coauthors concluded, “Further research is needed on the appropriate management of cross-gender hormones, dosing of medications and nutrition, and the special considerations for injury patterns and risks in transgender patients. Development of a system for quickly determining the state of gender-affirmation of the patient in regards to hormone therapy, surgeries, and social aspects may prove beneficial to providers in the setting of trauma, but involvement of the transgender population in the development of any such system is crucial.”

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