At the Center for Gender Confirmation Surgery at Weiss, you might hear us explain that we practice care consistent with the Standards of Care established by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH). But what does that mean? And how do we apply consistent care standards for transgender and gender non-conforming patients when their healthcare needs are so diverse?
WPATH is a non-profit organization entirely devoted to promoting the expansion and development of better healthcare options and access for transgender individuals. WPATH partners with medical professionals around the world in multiple specialties including general medicine, psychology, law, social work, counseling, psychotherapy, family studies, sociology, anthropology, sexology, speech and voice therapy, and other related fields.
By sponsoring biennial scientific symposia, a global healthcare education initiative, and publishing the Standards of Care and Ethical Guidelines, the organization works to help healthcare professionals understand how to best manage care for transgender and gender non-conforming people.
What are the WPATH Standards of Care?
The primary reason the WPATH Standards of Care and Ethical Guidelines are used by the Center for Gender Confirmation Surgery at Weiss, is that they represent the best global consensus available on appropriate medical care, and they are flexible by design. The WPATH Standards of Care allow for healthcare providers to be responsive to individual needs, while working within established safe guidelines.
The WPATH Standards of Care explain the importance of understanding that the expression of gender and gender identity not stereotypically associated with one’s assigned sex at birth is a common and culturally diverse phenomenon, and shouldn’t be viewed “as inherently pathological or negative.”
It outlines the importance for healthcare providers to understand the difference between gender nonconformity (the extent to which a person’s gender identity, role, or expression differs from cultural norms prescribed for people of a particular sex) and gender dysphoria, which describes the “discomfort or distress” caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth.
The WPATH Standards of Care address how the prevalence of gender non-conformity has been historically understudied and underrepresented by the medical community, causing barriers to healthcare for many people, and it covers both psychological and medical ways to treat gender dysphoria. Children and adolescents with gender dysphoria are just as diverse as adults, so the publication provides guidance for the special healthcare needs and considerations of adolescents and children.
Mental Health is an important topic—particularly looking at the value of psychotherapy to help people explore gender identity, roles, and expression, as well as helping people examine the negative impact of gender dysphoria and stigmas, and managing internalized transphobia.
Randi Ettner, PhD, an international leader in the field of transgender health, and a clinical and forensic psychologist at the Center for Gender Confirmation Surgery at Weiss, has long been an advocate for transgender health and rights. She recently was awarded the Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the WPATH. Dr. Ettner helped to co-author the WPATH Standards of Care, which addresses psychological needs, and discusses how enhancing social and peer support, improving body image, and promoting resilience are all important parts of holistic care.
The WPATH Standards of Care take a comprehensive, multidisciplinary look at a variety of treatments and healthcare considerations for transgender and gender non-conforming people, including:
- Hormone therapy, outlining for healthcare providers flexible guidance for administering endocrine agents to feminize or masculinize physical characteristics;
- Reproductive Health, providing guidance for healthcare providers on how to manage the diverse reproductive health needs, decisions, and options for transgender and gender non-conforming patients;
- Voice and Communication Therapy, describing how therapy can be used to help individuals develop verbal and non-verbal communication skills to meet their gender identity goals;
- Surgery, providing an overview of best practices for surgeries used to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics, including providing recommendations for safe postoperative care and follow-up;
- Lifelong Preventive and Primary Care: giving guidance on primary care issues, as many transgender and gender non-conforming people have difficulty finding healthcare providers who understand their full primary care needs.
Care at Weiss is a High Standard
The Center for Gender Confirmation Surgery at Weiss Medical Director Loren S. Schechter, M.D., an internationally renowned plastic surgeon specializing in gender confirmation surgery, is also a co-author of the WPATH Standards of Care. Learn more about his advocacy and expertise in transgender healthcare here. Under Dr. Schechter’s leadership, Weiss Memorial Hospital as a whole provides training for employees on how to create a safe and welcoming environment for transgender and gender non-conforming patients.
The area of medicine that supports transgender and gender non-conforming people is evolving much faster than many other areas of medicine. As it does, the Center for Gender Confirmation Surgery at Weiss works to be on the forefront of safe and supportive medicine—and setting a high standard of care.