5 minutes with Louise Owen
Louise Owen is a Sexual Health Physician and Director of the Statewide Sexual Health Service in Tasmania. She was a speaker at the 2018 National Conference on Incontinence in Hobart. In addition to her clinical role, Louise is a lecturer on sexual health and related topics.
Could you share how you’ve been working with health professionals, particularly in the continence field, to educate them on the needs of the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex) community?
Raising awareness of the health needs of the LGBTI community has been on our agenda for a long time. As our transgender and gender-diverse practice grows, there have been increased calls for education from other health professionals.
This includes speaking with GPs, staff at incontinence services and practice managers. In our sessions we discuss general principles about inclusive language, feeling comfortable addressing LGBTI issues and feeling confident to raise topics if the client or patient may be feeling a little hesitant.
I also encourage health professionals to pass this information onto their colleagues: chatting about registration forms, preferred names and inclusive language that we can all use in our day to day practice.
Why is this education so important?
We know that many people within the LGBTI community live happy, connected and positive lives, but there are those who have significant mental health issues and who experience poorer physical and mental health outcomes. Many have experienced stigma and discrimination in everyday life, including during their encounters with health professionals.
If we can raise awareness with health professionals, we may be able to assist people on their journey through the medical system.
Many people have concerns and wonder whether the health professional will respect their body, gender and identity. Do they understand about correct pronouns? Will they ask loads of probing questions about gender matters even if the consult is nothing to do with that?
Bladder, bowel and pelvic health can be so personal and people are often embarrassed to seek help. What are your tips for people in the LGBTI community on finding a medical service or practice that’s right for them?
Ideally all health practitioners would be ‘friendly’ and non-discriminatory, but we know this isn’t always the case.
If your concern is around sexual health, intimate pelvic issues or bowel symptoms such as bleeding, you could start your discussions with a friendly GP or sexual health clinic. These doctors and nurses are usually very comfortable talking about these issues and should make the process a little easier.
Try searching the internet as some practices and practitioners may actively list themselves as ‘friendly’. Some practices are outwardly friendly and display rainbow flag signs, or you could go somewhere that comes recommended by other friends or family.
Are there benefits to being open and disclosing to your health professionals?
Health professionals are there to help and have expertise to assist you. Overall, it is best to seek assistance and link in with health professionals if possible.
Helping them understand other aspects of your life and wellbeing can assist them in addressing your health needs more specifically.
It is not essential to disclose if you belong in the LGBTI community and for some people, they may not feel it is safe to do so.
You might be worried about how to approach being open with your health professional. Perhaps you may wish to take someone along to your first appointment. You can write down your symptoms or concerns so that if you get anxious or nervous, you don’t forget them.
For confidential information and advice about bladder and bowel health, call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66.