A recently-funded study at the QEII Health Sciences Centre is hoping to help eliminate the barriers and challenges transgender and gender-diverse populations face in the healthcare system.

Project lead Dr. Jacquie Gahagan says information will be collected on the experiences and perceptions of both patients and doctors.

"We'll be conducting the survey in central zone and looking at what the findings are from a survey that we will be conducting with trans populations, as well as gender-diverse populations, in addition to healthcare providers," Gahagan says.

Kate Shewan is acting as a community advocate and patient representative for the study. She says trans healthcare is complex and presents a number of challenges.

"You sort of go on a waitlist and go through one step and then you get referred to another waitlist,” says Shewan. “You're waiting for another extended period of time to deal with somebody else completely different, and then it happens again."

Shewan says the long waits often take place when a trans person is at their most vulnerable.

“A trans person may have just identified or come to accept themselves and their identity, and just be starting out on that process,” she says. “That's a time where they may be under the most distress."

Research shows suicide risk is significantly higher in the trans community.

"We know that gender dysphoria increases dramatically right before gender transition,” says study administrative co-investigator Kolten MacDonnell. “What that tells us is that we really need to work hard to ensure that our services are accessible in a timely way."

Aside from addressing waitlist issues, the study hopes to raise awareness and knowledge of healthcare professionals, creating a more integrated approach.

"So that it's more of a system where the information follows you and the health professionals are working together, rather than these separate steps that people have to navigate right now," Shewan says.

The study is taking place in the Nova Scotia Health Authority's central zone, encompassing Halifax and nearby communities, with the hopes of eventually sharing findings with the rest of the province and beyond.