When Anne Koch, DMD, underwent gender confirmation surgery at age 63, she said that for her, the physical part was fairly easy. It was the emotional toll that was much, much harder.
“My only support system at the time was this little stuffed moose,” she told students in a standing-room-only Ginsburg Auditorium on October 26, during the inaugural lecture of an annual series at PCOM that will highlight LGBT History Month. “These were people I had known for 40 years, and all of a sudden they were gone. I had to live as a widow, and the loneliness was the roughest part, for me.”
Dr. Koch is a Penn-trained endodontist who, since her transition from male to female, has become an advocate for trans health issues, stressing the need for competent, caring and educated health practitioners who can effectively serve the needs of this still-largely underserved population.
During the lecture, which was hosted by the Office of Diversity and Community Relations and the PCOM LGBTQIA Council, Dr. Koch shared her personal narrative to illustrate the importance of a strong support system for those undergoing gender confirmation surgery—and, if there is no support system, how behavioral health practitioners can be of help to those patients.
“The most intimate thing you can do—other than die—is to have this surgery,” she said. “If there’s anything that requires some handholding, it’s this. The surgery is only the beginning.” She said that care for transgender patients was a “720-degree” process—that it has to be all encompassing, with complete continuity of care for each patient.
Dr. Koch also discussed treatment options for both male-to-female and female-to-male patients, and creating an open and welcoming clinical environment for LGBTQIA patients. She called on the medical and psychology students in the audience to be active and aware of the needs of that patient population.
“There’s a perceived illegitimacy that’s starting to overwhelm things,” she said. “The comorbidities within these patients are stunning, and it’s up to the medical community to sort it out. No one is disposable. You’re the vanguard; you’re the generation that will need to address this.”
Marcine Pickron-Davis, PhD, chief diversity and community relations officer, said the College’s goal in starting the lecture series is to show students that diversity in their future practices isn’t just about gender or race. “We want to graduate culturally competent healthcare providers, and that means hearing voices from all facets of the community,” she said. “Learning how to create a dialogue, how to ask questions, and not harbor assumptions that their patient is straight, or identifies as female or male, is incredibly important.”
Anne Koch, DMD, is the author of the forthcoming book, It Never Goes Away: Gender Transition at a Mature Age.
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine has trained more than 15,000 highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach, treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM offers the doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of pharmacy and doctor of psychology degrees and graduate programs in mental health counseling, school psychology, physician assistant studies, forensic medicine, organizational development and leadership, and biomedical sciences. Our students learn the importance of health promotion, education and service to the community and, through PCOM’s Healthcare Centers, provide care to the medically underserved populations in inner city and rural locations.
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