Thrive by IU Health

June 29, 2021

Doctor’s Passion: Caring for LGBTQ+ Patients, Educating Health Care Community

IU Health University Hospital

Doctor’s Passion: Caring for LGBTQ+ Patients, Educating Health Care Community

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

When Dr. Hannah Locke first interviewed at IU Health, she said she felt a support that she hadn’t felt before as a new doctor. It was a foundation that has helped her build a practice intent on caring for LGBTQ+ patients.

“I am a queer person married to a non-binary person. I came out as gay during my residency and struggled with what a career would look like as a non-straight gynecologist in Indiana,” said Dr. Locke. “I got the sense that my identity would be tolerated as long as I didn’t talk about my personal life around my patients.”

Dr. Hannah Locke with her family

Talking with her patients is a necessary part of gaining their trust.

In 2018, when she joined IU Health, she said she joined a team that not only embraced her passion, but also looked for ways to improve patient care. In March, she was one of several presenters at The LGBTQ Healthcare Conference - an annual event dedicated to informing healthcare providers on the unique needs of LGBTQ patients. That means providing equitable and accessible healthcare for LGBTQ people. Her topic at the conference was “family building” – different fertility options for LGBTQ people.

The topic is one of many that she shares with her patients. Dr. Locke and her spouse, Kim Locke, have a 9-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, and a 3-year-old son conceived from donor sperm. When their son was an infant, the couple co-nursed. The first-hand experience is something she shares with her patients as part of education on partner lactation.

“I became a doctor because I wanted to improve the lives of others but I also wanted a job that was challenging and stimulating. I believe in education and spend a lot of time talking about a plan we come up with together,” said Dr. Locke.

One of the greatest challenges LGBTQ people face, she said is feeling comfortable making that first appointment with a trusted physician.

“I do a lot of screening for high-risk sexual behavior knowing a lot of LGBTQ people are in non-monogamous partnerships,” said Dr. Locke. “I sometimes start by saying what ‘body parts does your partner have?’ Then we talk about their sexual circle so we can discuss pre-exposure and safe sex.”

Since joining IU Health she said there have been concentrated efforts on meeting specific needs of LGBTQ people. “Specifically, we have looked at what we had and what we needed to make a more cohesive gender affirmation program,” said Dr. Locke, whose practice includes hysterectomies. One addition to the program is a nurse navigator who works with Dr. Locke, and other surgeons including Dr. Joshua Roth, who specializes in urology and gender health and completed fellowships in genitourinary transgender surgery; and Dr. Ivan Hadad, who specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery. In addition to hysterectomies the team provides “bottom” surgery including orchiectomy, vulvoplasty, vaginoplasty, metoidioplasty, and phalloplasty and “top” surgery, including chest reconstruction, breast augmentation, and mastectomy.

“I’m a big proponent of personalizing care,” said Dr. Locke. “Sometimes I’ll have a trans man who wants a hysterectomy and his blood pressure is through the roof because he’s concerned about a pelvic exam. We have lots of conversations. I believe in bodily autonomy. It’s so important to put them at ease.”

A large part of her care is accessing general physical and mental wellbeing.

“We know this is a patient population that faces higher rates of depression. Forty percent of all trans people have attempted suicide due to stresses,” said Dr. Locke. “There’s a growing fear of rejection. That’s why there is such a strong need for whole-person care.”

If she could offer a specific message during Pride Month, Dr. Locke said it would be this: “For LGBTQ people, I want them to know how much effort we’re putting into making this health system better for them. We have a lot of people working to improve it. I want them to feel safe.”

And for non-LGBTQ people: “Sometimes we forget that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are facing challenges. It’s a population that has historically faced so much discrimination. As a health care system, we have a lot of work to do to make up for that. I think showing extra compassion is one way to start.”

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LGBT Health

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients are at a higher risk for certain health conditions. Knowing your risks and communicating concerns with your provider can help you receive the best care and meet your health goals.