MSU assistant professor helps doctors find joy in difference

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University assistant professor’s research study is helping medical providers find joy in caring for transgender and nonbinary people.

“A lot of my research recently has been interviewing medical providers who work with transgender people and thinking about the uncertainty that they experience and the challenges they face,” said stef shuster.

As an assistant professor of sociology at MSU, part of shuster’s work is thinking through how medical providers make sense of working with a group of people that they don’t have a lot of experience with.

The work started when shuster moved to Iowa in 2007. As someone who is transgender and identifies as nonbinary, they learned quickly that there weren’t a lot of doctors who “were willing to work with trans people.”

“I wanted to go out and start interviewing providers to see if that was something that was particular to Iowa City, or if that was something that a lot of providers felt,” Shuster said.

After interviewing about 25 medical providers around the country, they realized this wasn’t limited to Iowa City.

“It ended up being that a lot of providers just don’t feel like they have the proper training and tools to really work with patients in the way that they’re comfortable with and the way that they want to,” they said.

They found that most people wanted to have the conversation and wanted to learn more, and Shuster was happy to provide that platform to people who wanted to find the joy in difference.

“I decided to end those interviews, by asking them, what do you find joyful about working with trans people or in trans medicine,” Shuster said. “What providers begin reflecting on is how, yes, working with trans people can sometimes be difficult, because they’re not trained in how to do it. But once they really start, it’s almost like once you create vulnerability for yourself a little bit, you can be open to the possibility, not only that you were wrong, but that trans people are not some weird, off-beat outlier.”

They said the medical providers they interviewed are doing more to create a better relationship with not just their transgender patients but all of their patients starting by spending more time with their patients and getting to know them better during appointments. shuster published a book based on what they found in their interviews

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