Written by Rachel Hill Ponko
Sondra Smith, BSN ’15, has found her calling providing skilled and compassionate care – for all.
A board-certified family nurse practitioner, Smith delivers comprehensive medical care in many areas, including chronic disease management, preventative care and LGBTQ-related care.
“It’s really important to fill this gap because, historically speaking, people in the LGBTQ space have experienced discrimination while seeking care,” says Smith.
It’s really important to fill this gap because, historically speaking, people in the LGBTQ space have experienced discrimination while seeking care.”
According to a 2020 report from the Center for American Progress, one in ten LGBTQ+ Americans experienced discrimination from a healthcare provider as recently as 2019.
While discrimination or prejudice can deter someone from seeking care, it’s not the only barrier to care that exists in the LGBTQ space.
The National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center reports many LGBTQ patients only have access to providers who lack the knowledge or experience to provide them with competent care. Statistically, LGBTQ individuals are also less likely to have health insurance or one that covers services they may require.
“Any extra barriers we create to care just hurts the community’s health as a whole,” says Smith.
Together with Dr. David Blackwell and the team at Chatham Care, Smith is working to improve care and – ultimately – the health of the LGBTQ community in Central Indiana. In addition to offering medical care, Chatham Care is dedicated to providing a welcome, open and affirming environment for patients and their loved ones.
Smith notes the smallest gestures are often the ones that make the biggest difference.
“It can be as simple as never making assumptions,” says Smith. “When it comes to family planning, or you’re seeing a patient who was assigned female at birth, sometimes providers will make the assumption that we need to talk about birth control, and you may not need to because you have no idea who their partner is.”
Smith’s journey to educate herself about inclusive services and care began eight years ago when she attended a conference on transgender health. Since that time, she has received her bachelor’s degree from IU School of Nursing at IUPUI, earned her master’s degree and fulfilled a goal to become WPATH certified.
“The World Professional Association of Transgender Health, or WPATH, creates standards of care and guidelines on how to provide health care and hormone therapy to gender-nonconforming people,” explains Smith.
Today, she is one of three providers in the state, and the only advanced practice nurse in Indiana, who is WPATH certified.
“Almost on a weekly basis, a patient will thank me for just being knowledgeable and answering their questions and taking the time to explain things,” says Smith. “They are very grateful, and I have definitely gotten teary-eyed a few times.”
Smith also enjoys sharing what she’s learned about creating more respectful health care environments with current and future nurses. Much like the community she serves, Smith says all are welcome.
“The more well-informed nurses we have, the better,” she says. “Most of the providers who specialize in LGBTQ care are passionate about it and just want to help. The more the merrier!”
More information about the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, its certification process and other learning opportunities is available at WPATH.org.
For assistance finding a provider in your area who understands LGBTQ+ needs, visit OutCareHealth.org.