Cameron Nicholson knows firsthand the health care hurdles LGBTQ+ patients face. As a transgender man, he has been refused treatment by providers and found himself educating physicians about his care. “I had to assist my endocrinologist with interpretation of testosterone levels and how to adjust the dosing,” he says. Once, his gynecologist instructed him to find a new provider because “she does not treat men.” At times he avoided seeking medical care altogether, feeling defeated by his previous experiences.
Unfortunately, across the medical field, failures to understand LGBTQ+ health care needs lead to the kind of mistreatment and incompetent care Nicholson once faced. In the 2015 U.S. National Transgender Survey, 50% of participants reported having to teach their medical provider competent transgender care, 19% reported being refused care due to trans or gender-nonbinary status, 28% reported postponing necessary medical care when sick or injured due to previous discrimination by health care providers, and 33% reported delaying or foregoing preventive health care due to previous poor experience with health care providers.
Intent on pursuing a career in medicine, Nicholson resolved to become the kind of provider he had been denied so many times during his life. “I knew that I needed to put myself in a position where patients never avoided care for themselves for any reason,” he says. After earning his BS in Pre-Medical Studies from Limestone University, he entered Barry University’s Physician Assistant program, where he became an immediate advocate for improved health care for LGBTQ+ patients. “I felt strong support from both my peers and my Barry mentors,” he says. “I never felt like I needed to hide or that I couldn’t share my passions with anyone. Rather, my ambitions were encouraged.” Soon, Nicholson became a Student Leader Fellow of the LBGT PA Caucus , a national organization with the American Academy of Physician Assistants that promotes equitable care for LGBTQ+ patients. His hard work and advocacy impressed his Barry professors, who invited Nicholson to give a presentation on gender-affirming care to his class.
Since graduating from Barry’s PA program in 2017, Nicholson has not only continued his advocacy work but also launched an impressive career. He works as a PA with New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Hospital for Special Surgery, providing care to orthopedic patients, particularly those who have undergone spine surgery. He has also graduated into the role of President of the LBGT PA Caucus, where he is working to advance access to exceptional care for all. “Increasing awareness of the needs of the LGBTQ+ populations and also educating our future clinicians is my top priority,” he says. “I have seen a lot of progress with PA programs reaching out to our caucus to provide resources, educational materials, lectures, and even LGBTQ+ rotations.”
One such PA program belongs to his alma mater. Barry University has long been dedicated to inclusivity and forwards this mission by calling on alumni like Nicholson to share their expertise. Nicholson has been proud to speak to new classes of future PAs about the barriers to health care facing LGBTQ+ patients — including inadequate legal protections that prevent discrimination, incompetent providers, lack of financial resources, and trauma from previous medical interactions — as well as the PA responsibility for helping to eliminate these obstacles. “PAs play a crucial role in ensuring that medical offices have trained staff, inclusive intake forms, gender neutral/single occupancy bathrooms, inclusive non-discrimination policies, and also in providing exceptional health care,” says Nicholson. “Our clinical settings should feel like a safe space for our patients. We need to listen to our patients, refer to our patients by their preferred name and pronouns, and reassure them that we are on their side.”