By Dawn Chambers, NIMAA Instructor

*Names have been changed for patient privacy purposes

In 2010, I had just begun my career as an eager and excited Medical Assistant (MA). After only a week of working in the clinic, I was placed with a physician who primarily served the LGBTQ+ community and specialized in caring for patients with HIV and AIDS. Being unaware of any special circumstances of the patients I would encounter that day, I went about my business as usual.

Early in the day, I went out to the waiting room to call the next patient, Calvin. After several attempts at calling the patient’s name with no response, I told the receptionist the patient was not there or I had the wrong form. The receptionist, along with another receptionist and MA, laughed. When I asked why they were laughing, the MA, who had worked with this physician before, said, “Go back out and call Lucy.” I asked why I would do that when the name on the form was Calvin. She said, “Just go and call Lucy.”

I went back to the door and this time called for Lucy. A very tall, elegantly dressed woman stood up and walked towards me. It was very awkward, and I was not sure what to do or say in that moment. I put on a smile and said, “Hello! My name is Dawn, and I will be taking you back to see the physician.”

Once the door closed behind us and we were walking to the vitals station Lucy said, “You called me by my government name. I do not answer to that name. You must be new, because every time a new person starts they do this to me and the [receptionists] up there know that I do not use that name.” She added, “I have asked them time and time again to stop putting that name on there because I will not answer to it.”

I apologized for the mix-up, complimented her on her flawless and impeccable taste in clothing and moved forward with trying to salvage the patient-MA relationship. 

After I led her to her room, I went back to the front desk and asked to speak to the receptionists and MA away from the view of other patients. I asked why they hadn’t told me the patient was transgender.

Their response almost floored me. They both started laughing and said, “We do that to all the new MAs.”

I was appalled. I immediately told them that it was both a violation of patient rights and inappropriate to disregard a patient’s request to be acknowledged by a different name just to play a joke on a coworker.” Then I told their manager.

This situation, and some others in the clinic, forced me to look at how I wanted to make a difference in the medical field. I wanted to teach others that it is not ok to violate a patient’s rights in any way when they are coming to a clinic for healthcare. I pursued degrees to become a clinic manager so I could teach my staff the correct way of caring for patients like Lucy. This, in turn, lead to me become an instructor. I felt instructing would allow me to reach more MAs before they actually make it to the clinic setting and teach them to care for all patients with respect.

Here at NIMAA, we strive to train future MAs to be compassionate, understanding, open-minded and caring when it comes to LGBTQ+ patients (and all patients) in any clinical setting. This is important to me — not only because of my personal experience that day — but because of many other things I have seen as it pertains to the LGBTQ+ population while working in the medical field.

Members of the LGBTQ+ population have historically faced judgement and discrimination while seeking care from medical providers. Trust, security and respect are key to building a good patient-provider relationship. I want NIMAA’s Medical Assistants, and all MAs, to “TRULY SEE” these patients for who they are and know that they deserve kindness, respect, and the finest healthcare we can give them.