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Breaking News: Vanderbilt Launches Trans Buddy Program

Vanderbilt LGBTI Health Launches Trans Buddy Program

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s LGBTI office launches innovative approach to transgender health utilizing a buddy system.

VUMC is the first in the nation to employ such a buddy program using trained peers and allies of the transgender community, specifically attempting to decrease the fear, one of the most reported barriers to healthcare by the transgender population, of being stigmatized by health care professionals and an obvious barrier to receiving healthcare.

The Pioneers Behind The Idea

Kale Edmiston and Lauren Mitchell, Ph.D. candidates at Vanderbilt, along with a trained group of hand picked volunteers, are serving as advocates for an innovative and resourceful program called Trans Buddy.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center and its clinics have announced the program is being implemented throughout the entire healthcare system in their facilities and clinics.

“It has become very clear that this kind of program is needed in the Nashville area,” said Edmiston. “We have received requests for assistance from providers as well as trans people who are afraid to go to the doctor.

Read: The Transgender HIV Awareness Guide

“We are focused on providing the best possible patient-centered care to improve patient outcomes,” he said. “We have folks who are afraid to even walk in the door. That fear is very real.”

The Innovative Approach

The Trans Buddy program falls under the umbrella of Vanderbilt’s Program for LGBTI Health, which is a nationally recognized program and initiative of the health facility to improve health care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) patients. VUMC has consistently ranked a leader in LGBT healthcare nationally in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index.

“Transgender people face barriers to accessing health care,” Edmiston said. “I want transgender patients to know that they can come to Vanderbilt and be treated with respect. Through Trans Buddy, patients will have the support of someone they can relate to and trust.”

This Trans Buddy program is available for individuals wishing to have an ally meet them for scheduled doctor appointments, surgeries and emergency room visits.  The program has volunteers available 24/7.

Read: Transgender Awareness Week Can Not Ignore Violence

“We acknowledge that there may be challenges when providing care for transgender patients,” Kristen Eckstrand, PhD, Co-Director of  Vanderbilt Program for LGBTI Health said. “But we want to provide support for the best patient-provider relationship.

“Recognizing that there is a steep learning curve for health care of transgender patients is a huge step. Trans Buddy is a way to support patients while the health care system is learning.”

According to the media release provided to

As the Trans Buddy program is being rolled out, Eckstrand said that their office is receiving inquiries from across the country.

“It is a novel idea that others in the academic health care setting are seeking to adopt,” she said. “It is important that we support transgender patients and help create a therapeutic alliance.”

The Trans Buddy Program will train peer advocates to help streamline communication between patients, staff and providers as well as help reduce patient anxiety surrounding receipt of care in hopes of reducing the delay of care.

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