You Can Make a Trans Person’s Day

By Matt Ellison (public speaker)

You may be surprised as to how much benefit you as a pharmacist can bring to the psychological and emotional well-being of trans people. One simple way is by knowing the correct name and pronouns to use. This can enable you to make the difference between a traumatic experience and a truly uplifting one.

As a child I developed several coping mechanisms to deal with the many difficult situations that came up for me. One of these was around being gendered female. I would reason with myself. For example, I remember one occasion, I was thirsty and wanted to buy a can of coke. I told myself “It doesn’t matter right now if I’m male or female, or whether the shop assistant calls me Sir, Madam, he or she. They’re only words and they make no difference to my ability to buy a can of coke and quench my thirst.”

These thoughts helped me cope! But in reality this is far from how it works. Those words may seem small and unimportant, but to a trans person they have a far more impactful and significant meaning than most people could ever contemplate. Psychologically there’s a vast burden of triggers attached to those words. Imagine how you feel when you’re having a bad day; it doesn’t take much for other things to also get on top of you. And for a trans person, every time an incorrect pronoun or name is used it’s a stabbing reminder of the many things that just aren’t right for them in life. It has the potential to bring up any of the hundreds of negative feelings often experienced around living in the wrong identity. This can trigger or enhance feelings of dysphoria or depression, particularly if they’re having a bad day already. And if they experience self-harm or suicidal tendencies it can enhance these too.

Passing & Outing

So as you can see being gendered correctly is important; ‘Passing’ and ‘outing’ are big issues for many or most trans people. Passing means being taken for one’s acquired gender. Outing means having one’s birth gender revealed in some public way. Remember that trans people have a legal right not to be outed.

Hormones, of course, play a huge role in successful gender transition, particularly when it comes to passing. Estrogen and testosterone produce the secondary sex characteristics that naturally occur at puberty. This can include fat redistribution and body shape, growth of breasts, facial hair, and a change in muscle mass and a breaking voice. To many trans people, it’s these changes that are the essence of transition. And these hormones need to be taken life long. So it’s inevitable that contact between trans patients and pharmacists will occur regularly.

In the pharmacy

At least initially, you may meet a trans person collecting their prescription with a name and gender marker that doesn’t match their outward appearance. These can be nerve-wracking experiences for a trans person. In their day-to-day life they may be frequently misgendered and/or outed, not only by their appearance but sometimes also because the people they’re interacting with say the wrong things – often unknowingly, but unfortunately sometimes intentionally too. This may be in a chemist, shop, or waiting area, full of strangers who can overhear.

Even if the trans person fully passes in their acquired gender, it often happens that they’re misgendered and/or outed in front of others, simply because the person dealing with them is untrained or has no experience of the difficulties transgender people face. And telephone conversations may be upsetting, if the trans person needs to identify themselves as the person on the prescription or account and their voice doesn’t seem to match.

While in transition, trans people may be more sensitive and vulnerable. Although suicide and self-harm rates are reported to be high within the trans community, it’s been shown these rates fall back into the range for the general population after successful transition. And, aside from medical intervention, what really helps to make transition successful is how the trans person is perceived and treated by those around them.

So what can you do?

As we’ve seen, names and pronouns matter a lot. Always try to use the name and, importantly, the pronouns (like she, he, her, him, or them and they for gender neutral) for the gender on the patient’s records. If in any doubt, discreetly ask the patient how they’d like to be addressed. If they ask to be called something specific (it may be different from what’s on their records), then go with that. It can do so much good to remember the delicate situation of the trans person and make that extra effort to be sensitive and tactful.

It’s inevitable that mistakes happen, but if this does occur, the best way to respond is to simply correct yourself and continue without making a fuss. By over-apologising it only makes it a bigger deal, with more people overhearing, and generally makes things worse.

And imagine how amazing it feels to be gendered correctly!

Just as being outed or misgendered can trigger very negative emotions, so each small experience of passing and being gendered correctly can have the very opposite effect. It can trigger very positive emotions, especially if early on in transition.

I remember clearly an occasion early in my transition. Standing in a queue, I could hear the shop assistant saying “Sir” or “Madam” to each person he served. I excitedly realised this was a great opportunity to test whether I passed yet. As my turn to be served came I boldly walked to the counter and expectantly waited to hear how he would gender me.

On this occasion he was clearly not sure as he didn’t gender me at all, with no use of either sir or madam. Which I guess was better than being gendered female, and was certainly a step in the right direction. But imagine my delight the very first time someone did call me sir, or used my new name Matt.

Having had some quite negative experiences with healthcare professionals along my journey, it would have made a huge difference to me for a pharmacist to be aware of the difficulties that we as trans people face. To have an encounter handled sensitively and correctly not only validates me as a human being, it also creates positive feelings, it shows this is a person who understands and is knowledgeable, but ultimately and most importantly, shows me this is someone I can trust. You really can make a huge difference!

To find out more about Matt’s work or to book him for a talk go to:

www.mattellison.co.uk

www.twitter.com/mattespeaker

For more blogs from Matt: www.mattellison.co.uk/blog/

Time to Influence

by Ross Gregory, Head of External Relations, Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Wales

Ross Gregory, Head of External Relations, RPS Wales
Ross Gregory, Head of External Relations, RPS Wales

Time to Influence 

Throughout the year, RPS speaks on behalf of its members in Wales at the highest strategic levels. We do this with pride and professionalism to influence the change we want to see in health care. Most importantly, we can help improve patient outcomes through the interventions of pharmacists.   

While the issues vary considerably, one variable remains a constant: influencing change takes time. The recent publication of a National Assembly report into dependency on prescription drugs reminded us of this very fact.   Read more Time to Influence

What opportunities does the pharmaceutical industry offer? 

By Tarquin Bennett – Coles
Principle Consultant, Life Sciences EMEA & US at Carmichael Fisher

According to figures from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) the biopharmaceutical industry the number of pharmaceutical enterprises has been increasing since 2010.  According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), by 2015 the number of enterprises operating in the UK was 573 (manufacturer of basic pharmaceutical products and pharmaceutical preparations). The number of employees in the UK working in the sector in 2016 was 63,000 with 24,000 dedicated to R&D. 

The scale of the sector means there are opportunities for new joiners at all levels covering lab based positions to externally focused sales positions and everything in between. Trained pharmacists and technicians will already have a knowledge of the pharmacology of drugs and in many cases will have dealt with questions from patients and the public that will give them insight into the benefits and challenges of developing new drugs, supply chain, compliance and convergence of digital health technology with the sector.   Read more What opportunities does the pharmaceutical industry offer? 

Social prescribing – linking patients with support

by Hemant Patel FRPharms, English Pharmacy Board member

Today is Social Prescribing Day. So, what is social prescribing?

Social prescribing enables GPs, pharmacists, nurses and other primary care professionals to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services via a link worker.

Social prescribing schemes can involve a variety of activities which are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations. Examples include volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

Link workers give people time and focus on what matters to the person, and as part of their care, connect people to community groups and agencies for practical and emotional support.  With the recent publication of the NHS Long Term Plan and personalised care being marked as a priority, the NHS has promised to support at least 900,000 people to benefit from social prescribing by 2023. Pharmacists have a role to play here. Read more Social prescribing – linking patients with support

Support the RPS Board candidate you believe in

As the guy who, (used to be), on the telly, I know what it feels like to put your head above the parapet.

I had to accept I wouldn’t get everything right, and that critique and criticism, (thanks mum) was part of the gig.

As people start to think about standing for election to the RPS National Pharmacy Board, it’s worth bearing in mind that we are talking about passionate pharmacists who want to make a positive difference to the profession.   Read more Support the RPS Board candidate you believe in

Women in early pharmacy

By Matthew Johnston, RPS Museum

“There is an impression that women are something new in pharmacy, but nothing could be further from the truth.”

These were Jean Kennedy Irvine’s words on her election as the first woman President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 1947.

Medieval monasteries

In her speech, Jean also mentioned the early beginnings of community pharmacy in the medieval monasteries, where residents would grow medicinal plants to treat themselves and local people.

One of the oldest items on display in the RPS Museum is a stone mortar from a Spanish nunnery (AD 410-1500), used for preparing medicines. The Hanbury Collection of the RPS Library also contains a later copy of the ‘Physica’, a work by St Hildegard, Abbess of Bingen. Originally written in the 1100s, it outlines the medicinal properties of various drugs obtained from the natural world. Read more Women in early pharmacy