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Five Things Nurses Should Know About Caring for Transgender Patients

During your career in nursing, you’re likely to have transgender patients. How can you best care for them?

Nearly one million U.S. adults are transgender, according to scientific estimates.1 But the number could be higher than that. Many transgender individuals are averse to coming out, due to longstanding prejudices against them. This may depress estimates, as evidenced by the fact that younger people, who are growing up in a more accepting climate, are more likely to identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming than are older people. In fact, one recent study found that as many as 3% of high school students identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming.2

What these numbers tell us is, in your nursing career, three out of every 100 patients you see may be transgender or gender-nonconforming. How can you best care for them? Here are a few things you should know:

Five Things Nurses Should Know About Caring for Transgender Patients

  1. Being Transgender Is Not a Disease

    The first thing you should remember when treating a transgender or gender-nonconforming patient is that their gender identity is not a physical or mental illness. While transgender patients do share certain elevated risk factors—particularly pertaining to the likelihood they will be subjected to violence3—their gender identity itself is not anything you need to treat. Rather, focus on treating the specific medical complaint in the same manner as you would treat the complaint in any other patient.

  2. Gender Identity Is Not the Same as Sexual Identity

    While the abbreviation LGBT includes transgender individuals, gender identity and sexual identity are two separate concepts. Your gender identity describes which gender, if any, you identify as, regardless of your genitalia. Sexual identity describes who you’re emotionally and/or sexually attracted to. In this way, a trans woman (a person who was born with male genitalia but identifies as a woman) who is attracted to men may consider herself straight.

  3. Using Preferred Names and Pronouns Is Important

    Many transgender individuals prefer to be called by a name different than their birth name. Many also prefer that others use the pronouns appropriate for the gender they identify as. Referring to a trans woman by her male birth name, calling her “Mr.,” or referencing her to a colleague as “he” or “him” is highly insensitive and can make your patient unwilling to listen to you or seek your medical care again. Be aware, however, that some transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals prefer the pronouns they/them, while others may have alternative preferences. When in doubt, asking “How do you prefer to be addressed?” is a good choice.

  4. Transgender Individuals Often Delay Seeking Care

    Due to the fear of being judged and/or mistreated, many transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, especially transgender women of color, delay seeking medical care.4 This can lead to otherwise mild problems developing into life-threatening ones or it can leave a transgender patient with numerous medical problems that need your attention. You should be aware of this issue and strive to provide a safe and caring environment for transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, so they are less inclined to delay care.

  5. Transgender Individuals Are at an Elevated Risk of Suicide

    The risk of suicide among transgender individuals is distressingly high, with 41% of transgender individuals attempting suicide at some point in their lives—almost 10 times the rate among all other individuals.5 Experts and transgender advocates attribute much of this to the often harsh stigmatization many transgender individuals face, as well as to the lack of sufficient social and mental health services for transgender individuals. As a nurse, you need to be aware of this increased risk of suicide among transgender individuals. You’ll need to respectfully screen for suicidal ideation and make sure you in no way contribute to a transgender patient’s sense of exclusion.

How Can You Learn More About Being a Good Nurse?

A successful career in nursing requires a lot of empathy for all people and a lot of knowledge of treatments, procedures, and methods of care. While experience helps, if you want to put yourself in a position to be a nurse leader, you’ll want to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Not only can an MSN degree help you gain advanced knowledge and leadership abilities, it can help you qualify for the position of nurse practitioner, nurse mentor, nurse educator, or other positions of leadership in nursing, such as a health informatics expert or nurse manager.

If you’re like many nurses, you may be concerned that enrolling in an MSN program will make it difficult to continue working your current nursing job. However, online education provides a great solution. At an online nursing school, you can earn your Master of Science in Nursing on a flexible schedule that will let you arrange your class times around your current shifts. And since you can participate in online MSN programs from anywhere you have internet access, attending class is as simple as turning on a computer.

Aside from the typical BSN to MSN path, many nursing schools with online learning platforms also offer an RN to MSN path that makes it possible for you to earn your master’s degree in nursing even if you don’t hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Earning a master’s in nursing online can be a great way to take your nursing career further—and prepare you to provide quality care to patients of any gender identity.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,