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Enfermería Global

On-line version ISSN 1695-6141

Enferm. glob. vol.18 n.56 Murcia Oct. 2019  Epub Dec 23, 2019 


Competent trans* health care, current situation and future challenges. A review

Jesús Manuel García-Acosta1  , Maria Elisa de Castro-Peraza2  , Maria de los Ángeles Arias-Rodríguez3  , Rosa Llabrés-Solé4  , Nieves Doria Lorenzo-Rocha4  , Ana María Perdomo-Hernández4 

1University of La Laguna. Tenerife. Canarian Health Service. Canary Islands, Spain.

2Dean of the Faculty of Nursing Nª Sª de La Candelaria. University of La Laguna. Canarian Health Service. Tenerife. Canary Islands, Spain.

3Professor of the University of La Laguna. Tenerife. Canary Islands. Spain.

4Lecturer of the Faculty of Nursing Nª Sª de La Candelaria. University of La Laguna. Canarian Health Service. Tenerife. Canary Islands, Spain.



We know as a transgender person who is not identified with the sex of birth, this fact still collected as pathology by the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM-V) will cause inequalities and barriers At the time of health care.


To explore the difficulties for health care perceived by trans* people and by the professionals who assist them in health centres.

Material and method

Literature review.


Both professionals and trans* people perceive significant barriers. They could be grouped by diverse topics: healthcare inequalities noticed by trans* patients, prejudices and felt discrimination, specific health risks, lack of professional knowledge and deficit of training in current curricula. On the other hand, nursing with trans* patients may result in a facilitator.


There are multiple factors which can be modified and which produce that trans* people do not notice appropriate care. Appropriate training of health professionals is the one which acquires more relevance. The results found provide key information for the future design of interventions aimed at improving the quality of the assistance in this group.

Keywords: Transgender People; Continuing Education; Education, Nursing; Comprehensive Health Care


Before being at this world, people are assigned a role, what is known as "the must be", and this implies, in the case of disobedience, punishment by part of society, and awards for the attachment to it. It also happens the same with values associated with femininity and masculinity. Depending on genitality, a social and cultural gender is imposed on us, and a path to follow is indicated. Heteronormativity is a general phenomenon in the health centres and it makes that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersexual patients (LGBTI) are invisible. This fact negatively affects the type and quality of health care that these people receive 1.

The word "trans" refers to people who have different gender expression or identity to the one they had when they were born 2. We use "trans*" to be inclusive of all identities under this umbrella, including transgenderism, transsexuality, gender-fluid and other ways of "non-compliant" gender 3.

Trans* people share many of the same health needs as general population but they may also have others which are specific, such as the hormonal therapy of gender affirmation and surgery. However, evidence suggests that transsexuals often experience a higher illness rate, including mental, sexual and reproductive health areas. The exposure to violence, marginalization, stigma, and discrimination are higher in these population too 4. Moreover, they face barriers to receive health care due to isolation, lack of social services and health competent personnel in this specific issue 5, and the resources that intervene in health, such as education, employment, and housing. These barriers are mainly due to legal, economic and social deprivation and also to marginalization, stigmatization, and discrimination, including not recognizing their gender 4. Evidence shows that this transphobia is shown in health centres but few studies approach the ways of abuse experienced in this context 6.

Everybody has the right to receive sure and of good quality health care. One of our roles as leaders of the health system is to assure that future professionals receive the education needed to provide those services 7, but in the majority of the cases, health personnel are not familiarized with trans* terminology nor differentiate sexual identities 8.

Transsexuality has been studied from different perspectives in the area of the investigation linked to the clinic with emphasis on the medic, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and psychology 9. Existing investigation related to trans* people and their health tend to have a medical point of view, particularly quantitative studies related to different medical aspects related to gender confirmation, access, and quality of attention 10. Nowadays, sexual minorities are becoming a more visible part of many countries population, especially those in the western world 11 so that a wider knowledge about transgenderism is needed, both in specialised centres as in general health care centres. Similarly a wider knowledge of sexual health rights 10.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies the LGBTI lack of investigation and health understanding joined to the attitude of providers towards these populations as significant barriers to solve health disparities related to sexual minorities 11. There is a growing commitment to public health to understand and improve transsexual and other gender minorities health and well-being which represent an estimated percentage of 0,3-0,5% (25 m) of the world population 4,12.

The presented evidence so far proves a great number of problematic aspects of trans* people which are associated with the transition and access to health care in general and these have negative effects on patient satisfaction 13. International investigation on LGBTI people experiences in health services suggests that, although some advance has been done, discriminatory practice keep on existing being many of the patients the ones who report about the lack of sensitiveness, prejudices and discriminatory practices by part of the medical staff, including the nursing one 14.


The proposed objective throughout this bibliographic review is to explore the difficulties in health assistance noticed by trans* people and professionals who assist them in health centres.


An extended literature review of studies about trans* patients’ health attention published in scientific articles has been used as a design.

The articles of the present review were identified through the automated search in the following scientific databases: Virtual Health Library (VHL), LILACS, Cuiden, SciELO, PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science (WOS), EBSCOhost and MEDLINE from 2004 to 2017. The following DeCS and MeSH keywords were used: "transgender people", "continuing education", "nursing continuing education", "competency-based education", "health education", "nursing education", "patient satisfaction", "personal satisfaction”, “personas transgénero”, “educación continua”, “educación continua en enfermería”, “educación basada en competencias”, “educación en salud”, “satisfacción del paciente” and “satisfacción” making use of different Boolean operators ("AND", "OR", and "NOT") along with the related words. Several word search combinations were used to widen the coverage of the articles. Qualitative, quantitative studies and mixed methods which met the criteria were included. In addition, an inverse search was accomplished departing from the bibliographic references of the selected studies.

The result of the search process, with the keywords used, allowed to select a total number of 57 documents which fulfilled the selection criteria. Later, we proceeded to export all the articles found to the computer software RefWorks, with the purpose of eliminating duplicated articles, reducing the sample to 47 documents. The document final selection was made based on exclusive criteria: not related to the studied topic phenomenon, year of publication, language different to Spanish or English, relevance or specificity and those connected with morality or ethics. This way, a sample of 34 documents was finally obtained. Next, a critical reading of the documents took place. The value of the selected articles was given by the grade of evidence shown, by the recommendations of the article as well as by the application to our context.


All the articles included in the study are not meta-analysis revisions, not existing randomized clinical trials. From a total of 34 articles, 61,76% (21) resort to a qualitative methodology, whereas 23,53% (8) use quantitative methods, following the rest 14,71% (5) a qualitative-quantitative mixed methodology. Most data (53,57%) were obtained from interviews 3,5,7,8,9,10,14,15,16,17,18,19,33,34 and online questionnaires and/or surveys (35,71%) 6,13,14,20,21,22,23,24,25,26. These methodologies show the importance, according to their authors, of giving voice to patients. The analysis of the content of the articles can be consulted in the Table 1.

Table 1. Analysis of the content of the selected articles. 

Own elaboration.

In Figure 1 we appreciate that most of the studies are North American (64,70%) 1,3,5,6,7,8,11,12,15,16,17,18,19,21,22,23,26,28,29,30,31,32, some Europeans (11,76%) 4,10,13,14, South American publications (8,82%) 2,9,20 two of them are Spanish speaking ones 2,9 and from other countries (14,70%) like Turkey 32, Australia 24, New Zealand 25, and Canada 33,34. We have not found any Asian study, nor have we found any Spanish study which associate the lack of knowledge by health professionals with trans* patients' perception of satisfaction.

Own elaboration.

Figure 1. Analysis of the percentage of publication and year of publication according to geographic areas. 

From the consulted literature, four are the studies that propose training actions 11,20,23,28, one of them reports double the positive effect in women compared to men 20 and other three ones which study the elderly LGBTI people's health 14,21,28.


The result of this review shows that both professionals and trans* people perceive significant barriers. They could be grouped in different topics (Table 2).

Table 2. Barriers to health care 

Own elaboration.

Inequalities in health attention perceived by trans* patient

According to the testimony of trans* people, professionals do not empathise with them, showing certain disinterest to know and understand the needs that their group requires. This way they find unsatisfactory the assistant received 33.

There is not enough investigation focused on trans* people and their experiences in sexual health, mainly from a qualitative focus 10 although it results crucial to investigate what trans* people feel, their needs and fears in health care matters, particularly regarding transition 11,13,16.

In the past, investigation studies have been focused on patients’ satisfaction with respect to surgery results, being few the studies that have addressed patient satisfaction with regard to the process and services which have been offered 13, although the satisfaction surveys have been able to be widely accepted as an important tool for the planning of quality improvement 22.

As regards successful aging and elderly LGBTI people care, few are the findings in the existent literature 14,21,28 as well as in the studies which assess the attitude of health science students versus LGBTI people 24,26,30 and those who treat gender dysphoria at an early stage and they are related to reproductive health 27. Investigations into the experiences in the health services of LGBTI people suggest that discriminatory practice by part of the staff keep on happening, reporting that there is a lack of sensitiveness and prejudices 14.

Prejudices and felt discrimination

There are studies which assess prejudice levels towards LGBTI people, being the highest levels among religious and conservative people 20,24, with no education and male ones 20,30. This prejudice also affects to health professionals, among nursing students, their prejudice is frequent, explicit and growing 20, a quarter of the medical staff surveyed has a negative opinion about LGBTI groups 32. They make them feel uneasy and unconfident 6, even professionals openly showed preference in the treatment of heterosexuals and homosexual men and women instead of trans* people 15.

The presumption of heterosexuality supposes one of the most important obstacles when it comes to receiving and providing quality health care to LGBTI people 24,25. Among the more common stereotypes that LGBTI people have to face there are: the relationship among homosexual, transsexual people and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) apart from the hypothesis that homosexual women do not present risks of suffering from sexually transmitted diseases (STD) 15.

Professionals do not have basic knowledge to identify discrimination, even that which has been perpetuated by themselves 20. Discrimination is perceived both directly and indirectly 32 and in the nurse's environment 10. When patients are asked about discrimination, more than a half say to have felt discriminated in social care centres 10,14, 14% in health centres 31,32, 28% had suffered verbal harassment 2,13 and 2% physical harassment 13. A quarter of the LGBTI patients notice that they are treated in a different way, with contempt 19 and they noticed a change of attitude towards a negative attitude when revealing their sexual orientation or identity 15, even 19% had been denied care 2,13,16. Moreover, a fifth part reported that their preferences were excluded when it comes to medical decisions 15, being also difficult the access to health care at various stages 13,21,23.

When asking to health professionals, 5% used gender inclusive ways, 44% did not know the inclusive ways, 37% did not know what gender referred to and 14% confused gender identity with sexual orientation 8. Recent research shows that negative attitudes towards sexual minorities keep happening among nursing professionals 30, revealing that they feel uncomforTable when treating with LGBTI people 25.

Many patients avoid mentioning their sexual orientation or their sexuality in general 10,24, even if the information may be useful for the health personnel 32, for fear of a negative response 14 or a negative former experience 17,22,23,25,26,29. In the case of trans* people, up to 30% avoid or delay the search for health services 17,30, they suffer apprehension, fear of harassment or discrimination 3, and they resort to illegal hormonal treatment through the internet 29 despite the fact that they may have detrimental effects for their health 7. Regarding women, these are the ones who most frequently disclose their orientation and sexual identity 25.

Specific health risks

Among LGBTI population there is a higher risk to suffer from mood disorders, to contract HIV 3,5,7,16,25, overweight, obesity 5,21, STD 3,5,7 and mental health problems 5,29 such as anxiety 5 and depression 18,21. In addition, they show higher consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs 7,11,16,29 twice to three times more probability of attempted suicide 2,5,16,18, stigmatisation 3,5,6,16,29 which lead to prejudices and discrimination 27, and lack of social support 18,21. An online survey about discrimination, informed that 43,2% of respondent had attempted suicide at least once in their lives 32.

Deficit of knowledge by professionals

Healthcare professionals, at no time of their academic education, have acquired knowledge about attention to trans* patients (nor is it reflected in the curricula). Apart from not having theoretical knowledge about the issue, they do not know the available resources that they have to obtain information. This causes that at the time of assistance, procedures to help them are unknown and as a result, difficult situations may occur because of the lack of familiarity with the terminology treated 33,34.

Improving the health of LGBTI people, requires competent staff in their attention 15, a better knowledge about transgenderism is needed, both in personalized attention centres as in health care in general 10,14, nearly 50% of key informant professionals reported lack of knowledge about necessities and special considerations in front of LGBTI people 1,22,23. This competence to be acquired by health professionals must focus mainly on those aspects related to the behaviour and verbal language, in a way that confidence with patients is improved 17 allowing to carry out an efficient and accessible attention 7,15, reducing barriers in the attention 7, improving health results for the professionals who assist 28 and providing an inclusive and sensitive service 11,14. There are many opportunities to increase the knowledge about transgender health 17. When consulting the patients, just one out of three believed that health professionals had enough knowledge about LGBTI issues 14.

Training deficit in current curricula

University must provide health science students with the opportunity to organise and be an active part of groups of interest so that leadership skills are cultivated and work as stimulus and support for other groups of interest’s trainings 5. Nursing curricula and, in general, health science ones, must be revised with respect to the issues related to LGBTI 5, since they do not provide with enough preparation 1, existing a critical need about gender identity education, terminology associated with sexual orientation 8 and in sexuality and other needs of elderly people, with special emphasis on trans* people 14. A curriculum which promotes sexual diversity in education will later improve LGBTI 5 people health care. The challenge for nursing education is synthesized the growing evidence of health LGBTI 5 people's problems. Facing heteronormativity, homophobia and transphobia is a specific need within healthcare environments 25.

Students must be motivated to go further from the assessment of physical manifestations or health indicators 5. Students who have been surveyed state having felt anxiety for not having enough preparation to provide an appropriate care in their clinical practice 11. The results of education programmes showed that students felt comforTable with training based on topics related to LGBTI 15, and what they learnt is being relevant to them for their clinical practice 11. When studying what it would happen inside nursing schools, four out of ten trans* nursing students felt discrimination due to their gender identity inside the nursing school itself 32, this transphobia may have a long-lived impact in their professional practice 30.

Health science teachers must provide diverse clinical practices, groups of interest and clear expectations to elaborate sensitive care plans regarding LGBTI patients, being able to use their relationship with students as a way of discussion and promotion of positive perspectives. Besides, they must assure the promotion of the knowledge development capable of implementing better practice in LGBTI patients' care 5.

Nursing as facilitator before trans* patients

Nursing professionals are of particular interest as they are basic direct caregivers 5. They are endowed with decision-making power 13, they have the commitment to providing comprehensive care 25 and an important role to play in the fight in favour of equity and justice within health care 10 and in the elimination of disparities with respect to LGBTI people's health 5,7. This role plays special importance in trans* people from the very first conversations they may have about their feelings through sexual reassignment, to the support and follow-up of their physical and mental health conditions 29 all along their lives. The majority of the nurses are not ready, they lack knowledge 1,11,16 and they are not familiarised with trans* terminology nor do they differentiate sexual identities. This lack of knowledge may, in an unnoticed way, exclude patients and their families making them invisible avoiding devoting them an appropriate care 8. Interventions aimed at the members of the family turn out to have positive effects, since they promote understanding and acceptance of trans* people by their loved ones 12. Regarding LGBTI elderly people, nurses must be aware of the risk of isolation and loneliness that this group presents 14.

Investigations with participation approach 10,13,20,28 are increasingly more involved in health science investigation 13. Given the training and role that nursing plays for the patient, this type of investigation is of great applicability.


This review presents a series of barriers identified by trans* community and by health professionals themselves, which limit access to care and the quality of this. Likewise, both patients and professionals report inadequate health training, what leads to a deficit in health services assistance.

In spite of the fact that there are significant barriers, this study provides a glimpse into the existence of a series of practice which may represent potential solutions. These include improving information resources (clinical practice guides, informative leaflets, healthcare algorithms), improving the existent information dissemination, incorporating specific training in trans* health to the current professional curricula, including specific training in current curriculum of the professionals of the future, developing cooperation among the most expert professionals and initiatives based on policies to enhance trans* patients access to healthcare services.

However, health professionals have a spectrum of attitudes and beliefs which impact on the attention these patients receive. Many inadequacies in care may be due to a heterosexual culture. More research on interventions that might facilitate the loss of barriers when sexual orientation is revealed is needed and even more on the sex felt, seeking to break heteronormativity assumptions on the part of the health team.


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Received: January 09, 2019; Accepted: February 20, 2019

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