UHS moves to provide hormone replacement therapy, LGBTQ students keep up the pressure

Katie Balevic

Editor’s Note: Some last names have been omitted out of respect for the privacy and safety of our sources. 

This fall, University Health Services will begin providing hormone replacement therapy, a service the LGBTQ community has long been pushing for.

While the service will initially only be available for patients already on HRT, UHS doctors hope providing hormone therapy will help them better serve their patients, said Melinda McMichael, interim chief medical officer at UHS.

“We want to make sure that when we do this, we do it correctly and that we provide the high quality services that we’re proud of providing to our students,” McMichael said. “We just want to do it right.”

HRT — the practice of using testosterone or estrogen hormones to alter one’s outward appearance to better match one’s gender identity — is a common step taken by transgender people to affirm their identity. While hormones can be prescribed by primary care physicians, they have not previously been available at UHS, a primary care clinic.

“Honestly there aren’t a lot of training programs for … physicians and other providers to learn how to do this,” McMichael said. “There’s a little bit of a learning curve.”

While McMichael said UHS doctors have attended conferences and hosted focus groups on how to properly administer medical services to transgender students, some students say prescribing these medications should not be that complicated.

Callum, a women’s and gender studies junior, said seeking HRT at other clinics can be frustrating because patients are put on waiting lists for months at a time — something Callum knows from personal experience. Callum recently got on the waitlist at another clinic and anticipates months of waiting for an appointment.

“UHS is supposed to be there for students on campus (with) basic health care things, which should include HRT,” Callum said. “Since it doesn’t, that forces people to have to wait months to get care that is very dire. … You have to wait months to be on the waitlist (and) you have to wait months for your actual appointment when we have enough doctors that do general medicine at UHS that should be able to write a prescription.”

McMichael said three UHS physicians will be providing HRT in the fall, and eventually UHS plans to start prescribing hormones to new patients as they gain more experience.

While UHS is working to make sure the program initiates smoothly, George Short Schaertl, an electrical engineering graduate student, said she is frustrated that it has taken UHS so long fulfill what she sees as a basic health care need.

“I think they’re ready, and I’m pretty upset with them for the delay,” said Schaertl, who has been on HRT for three months from another provider. “I think one thing that is disappointing is the mentality that transgender health care is something exceptional or unusual, rather than within the scope of things you might expect to encounter in your medical practice.” 

The work UHS is doing is good, Schaertl said, but not enough.

“I’m very glad they realize this is a problem, and they’re taking steps to fix it,” Schaertl said. “I am worried that they may start taking any action and start to think that they’re doing enough.”