Before her appointment earlier this year by Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Pa.) as the state’s physician general, Dr. Rachel Levine was vice chair for clinical affairs in the department of pediatrics and chief of the division of adolescent medicine and eating disorders at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. While on the faculty there, she decided to transition from her male birth sex to that of female.
Instead of being “marginalized, I was welcomed,” Dr. Levine said in an interview. “The faculty and administration were fantastic.”
That acceptance fuels Dr. Levine’s optimism that the medical profession’s sensitivity to the needs of the transgender community, including adolescents who seek to transition, is growing.
Just how many transgender Americans there are is unknown, according to Dr. Levine. “The statistics aren’t clear. I’ve heard one in a thousand, one in ten thousand, and one in three thousand. No one really knows. It depends on how you ask the question and what surveys you look at.”
But cultural awareness is growing, she said, which makes people more willing to identify themselves as a transgender person.
At the same time, she added, the medical community has more well-established standards of care that, 10 years from now, “will not seem as unique as they do now.”
She pointed to guidelines for developing, maintaining, and treating sexual characteristics in transgender persons published as far back as 2009 by the Endocrine Society and the establishment in the last decade of adolescent transgender medicine programs at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Boston Children’s Hospital, Children’s National Health System (Washington, D.C.), and the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“It gets better. Society is evolving,” she said. That’s Dr. Levine’s message to everyone, but especially young people who may be questioning their sexual identity and fearing what might happen if they do not conform.
“What I like to emphasize is that I wasn’t nominated because I am an openly transgender woman, but they didn’t shy away from it. I was judged purely on my qualifications,” she said. “And the state senate, which is dominated by Republicans, to their great credit, viewed me on my professional qualifications and I was unanimously confirmed.”
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