Though it might not be essential to track down that lesbian cardiologist who shares your anal fisting fetish, the fact remains that for much too long, sexual minorities have been underserved by the public medical system we pay for. Which explains why I am so frequently asked about how to find a gay doctor in our city.
What’s most important is finding a doctor (nurse, chiropractor, therapist, anonymous tester, etc.) who makes you feel comfortable, who genuinely listens to you and responds to the needs you express, and who offers care without judgement. Both gay and straight doctors have this capacity — and both can leave you feeling unheard and uncared for.
Unfortunately, just finding a family doctor at all is hard enough, let alone one who’s gay. We have a doctor shortage that “spans across Canada and North America,” says Dr Janice Willett, president of the Ontario Medical Association. Yet Ottawa doctors are under enormous pressure because Ontario has “one of the worst physician-to-patient ratios in the country.” There are only 176 doctors for every 100,000 people in our province. That’s 550 patients per doctor! One million adults and 130,000 children are without access to a family physician in Ontario.
How did it get like this? The provincial government decreased enrollment in medical schools in the early 1990s. Enrollment has since increased, but it takes a while to pump out new graduates. That problem is compounded by our ageing population. Baby boomers will require more support in their senior years just as many of their physicians are retiring. To wit, 19 percent of practicing physicians are over the age of 60. And while Ontario doctors move to other provinces and states with better working conditions, we place excessive obstacles in the way of physicians who immigrate to Canada before we let them practice here.
All that adds up to a whole lot of homos waiting endless hours at walk-in clinics and emergency rooms to see a doctor they don’t know and who doesn’t know them. No follow up, no continuity, no trust building, no relationship. And that’s if we decide to go at all. Few of us, for example, have a half day to wait for a doctor who just doesn’t get it when we seek advice about a new partner whose HIV status is different from our own. Experiences like that lead us to wait until the last possible moment to seek medical help — perhaps missing the early detection period for that funny lump or long after we’ve shared chlamydia with our friends.
Nonetheless, preventative health is cheaper and easier for both you and the system. Start by finding any family doctor you can and worry about finding a gay doctor later. If you’re relying on walk-in clinics for now, insist on seeing the same doctor every time, then follow these tips:
1. Search for a local doctor at www.cpso.on.ca. Ignore what the site says about whether a physician is or isn’t accepting new patients — that info changes too often to be accurate. Just do the broadest search possible for Ottawa and then start cold calling doctors. Be polite but keep calling back at one week intervals. You’ll get a lot of rejections and it can take a while, but this is how I eventually found my physician.
2. Ask around. Everywhere. Everyone. Friends, friends of friends, the doctor you see at the walk-in, people at your bus stop. When a doctor does start accepting new patients, it may only last a week before she’s unavailable again. Inside tips help!
3. If you’re a recent immigrant or refugee, the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services ( www.ociso.org) can help with your doctor search. Make an appointment at (613) 725-5671.
If you’re HIV positive, you need a family doctor in addition to your specialist because wellness doesn’t begin and end with sero-status. Know your rights: a doctor cannot refuse you solely on HIV status. Yet we know it happens. Work the system by disclosing your poz status only after a physician has accepted you as a patient. This isn’t lying. It’s being resourceful so that your needs are met and your rights are respected. Also, try asking your HIV specialist if he can help you get in at a friend’s practice.
And what to do when faced with sex-negative, queer-unfriendly attitudes from a doctor, addictions counsellor or that lady sticking the q-tip up your butt? Health Care Without Shame is an awesome book by Dr Charles Moser — full of tips for health providers on how to better serve sexual minorities. Read it yourself then give it to your doctor or send it anonymously in the mail. If it feels safe, gently correct your health provider when they make assumptions about you. When we tell doctors about the realities of our lives and sexual practices, we give them an entry point into how to better care for us.
They chose their profession because they want to help people — and they might even be kinkier than you! But bottom line: every doctor takes an oath to “do no harm” and it’s our right to hold them to it. Good luck!