Local hospital launches nation's first fellowship for doctors to learn gender affirming surgery

As the Trump Administration looks to roll back protections for transgender Americans, one city hospital is planning for the community's future healthcare needs — by being the first in the nation to launch a program training the next generation of transgender doctors. Health Reporter Erin Billups has the story.

Ronald Phillips started modeling at a young age, growing up in front of the camera, a picture perfect guy but inside Phillips felt anything but.

"I just couldn't deal with the gender dysphoria I would feel at home, in my daily life," Phillips said. "Let alone going on these sets where I had to play these roles. It was very uncomfortable."

At 36 years old, Phillips began life as Mahogany — a transgender woman but completing the transition proved difficult and expensive, until she learned about Mount Sinai's Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery.

"I literally ran," she said. "I was calling every single day,"

Mahogany is one of about 350 transgender individuals to undergo surgery at the center since it opened early last year.

The team operates on nearly four patients a week.

"In a city as big as New York there were only a couple of surgeons even trained to do this, these operations," said Dr. Jess Ting, director of surgery at the Mount Sinai center.

Now Dr. Ting, is training more. This summer the center is launching the country's first, yearlong, transgender surgery fellowship.

Dr. Bella Avanessian is the first surgical fellow, she says before she was only able to shadow transgender specialists for two weeks at a time.

"I had lots of obstacles finding people that would allow me to visit them, who would allow to opportunity for someone to take a look into what they do," said Dr. Avanessian.

"Most plastic surgeons don't deal with genitalia that much," Ting added. "If they do, it's cosmetic. These operations are unlike any others I have ever seen or witnessed, they are just incredibly more complex, functional."

And with 40 percent of transgender adults attempting suicide, the center also focuses on patients' mental health needs and has launched a new psychiatry fellowship.

"We're talking about an issue that is a matter of life and death," said Dr. Hansel Arroyo, director of the Transgender Psychiatry Fellowship at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. "Training this generation of psychiatrist and becoming adept in transgender health and transitional therapies that's crucial."

Mahogany completed her transition earlier this year.

"I felt stronger and stronger with each stage and I felt more complete as I went along," she said.

But many question whether this growth in transgender medicine will continue, some worry Medicaid insurance coverage of sex reassignment surgeries will be rolled back under the Trump Administration.

"That's  a fear of mine, it is a fear of my colleagues, it is a fear of almost every patient I come into contact with," Dr. Ting said.

For now though, the program will go on, in the hopes that New York's more progressive climate will maintain the momentum in medical care for transgender patients.

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