Friday, July 9, 2021

The Importance of the Words We Use

After celebrating June as Pride Month, we are pleased to share a blog on caring for LGBTQ+ people at the end of life. Edie M. Moran, LCSW, APHSW-C, a social worker with Prospero Health and a member of NHPCO's Diversity Advisory Council, offers the following reflections. 

At Prospero Health, our mission is to “Empower people facing serious illness to live their best lives now.” But providing care sure is hard to do when we have not taken the time to learn our patients’ points of view. Consider this recent example: Prospero’s care team was serving an amazing couple here in Chicago who were preparing to move out of their family home and into assisted living. During a routine team meeting, a teammate innocently asked how “the wife” felt about everything surrounding the move. Well, there was no wife in this family because both halves of the couple were men. This conversation was a simple reminder that taking the time to meet our patients where they are in life is not only valuable, but demonstrates respect to our LGBTQ+ community members. This remark was a simple mistake, really - most couples are a husband and wife. But not this very special couple, who had been together nearly 50 years!

As clinicians, we have a duty to use words to describe our patients that are the same words our patients use to describe themselves  in this instance, “husbands.” So much of our society, from the words we use to describe institutions to legal forms to generalized society-wide ideals of gender and sexuality, follows a heteronormative convention of naming. So, it can take a little mental gymnastics to undo the sometimes erroneous defaults our society uses to name issues surrounding gender and sexuality. Remember, practice makes perfect. Ask about, learn, and use all people’s pronouns. Be careful and thoughtful how you label or describe people. “Folks,” “friends,” and “teammates” are great substitutions for “you guys.” Most importantly, when you mess up, make it a point to do better! If we take the time to intentionally position ourselves with our patients in mind, we can all do even better at ensuring our patients really are living their best lives, now!


NHPCO recently released a new resource, LGBTQ+ Resource Guide, with content developed by NHPCO’s Diversity Advisory Council. The topics covered in the resource guide include LGBTQ+ healthcare disparities, serving LGBTQ+ patients in your community, and strategies for reaching out to LGBTQ+ communities. Download the LGBTQ+ Resource Guide (PDF) at no cost.

Additional free resource materials from NHPCO are available at

No comments: