“You shouldn’t have to lie to your physician. Your sexuality, who you’re with, who you love – these are all things that should be ok to talk about.” That’s one of the guiding principles of Dr. Paul Saladino’s career as a medical professional.
Currently in residency at his practice, Cross Valley Health & Medicine, in Newburgh, he relocated to the Hudson Valley about 10 years ago after a mid-AIDS-epidemic tenure at St. Vincent’s hospital in NYC. Recalling the countless number of patients (LGBTQ and not) that he has seen over the years, “people often assume it’s a typical situation – married, two dogs, white pickets fence – but patients all have unique situations and don’t want to make their doctor, and potentially themselves, uncomfortable talking about something as personal as sexuality”.
In general, gays & lesbians tend to be a healthier population – they eat better, exercise more, and have greater access to education, resources, and care. With that blessing, however, comes a culture with more guarded boundaries around personal habits and more prevalent vices in the forms of drinking, smoking, drug use, and casual intercourse. When translated to healthcare, topics such as infectious disease, safe sex, and domestic abuse (just to name a few) become difficult to discuss with any healthcare provider if one’s partner (male or female) is not disclosed. At the end of the day, the relationship between doctor and patient is one that is meant to connect people with the resources needed to get a proper solution to realistic issues. “I’m still seeing new patients each day that identify with the GLBT community”, Saladino notes, “and so many of them haven’t disclosed their full sexual and medical history to their doctor in the past. People tend to be guarded about these issues, but they’re critically important. Your doctor is someone you have a relationship with. It’s personal and private, but it also requires a lot of professionalism and they can’t do their best to help you if you don’t do your best to help them.”
Dr. Saladino’s prime time in NYC was immersed in HIV research and treatment. At the time, three floors at St. Vincent’s hospital in Manhattan were dedicated to treating individuals with HIV/AIDS. Now that HIV and AIDS are everyday terms, he sees many people becoming blasé about their health as gay people in modern society. “I think it’s an unfortunate cocktail of the changing face of diseases and a feeling of immunity. In the midst of medical over-information and self-diagnosis, it’s getting harder to pull genuine information out of people. The chain of events gets muddied in the course of guarded personal habits and cultural stigmas. We may be coming out of the closet on primetime television, but that doesn’t absolve us from caring for ourselves – as individuals and as a community.”
GLBT men & women are a specialized demographic – just like Asians, African Americans, or women. But does that mean all gay people need a gay doctor? “It’s about sensitivity and an understanding of the community”, Saladino says. “If you’re an African American, do you need to see an African American doctor? Not necessarily, but there’s an understood sensitivity there – a shared set of experiences. The same is true for the LGBTQ community. Sexuality brings up a lot of issues that are deeply rooted in one’s psyche, personality, and behavior patterns. While the efforts of sensitivity training are great and should by no means cease, everyone’s still an individual and separating personal prejudices from a non-biased practice isn’t always easy or ingrained. Just as a white physician can never understand the perspective and experiences of a black person, a non-gay physician can never understand the walls that an LGBTQ person has to put up”.
Paul Saladino, MD, specializes and is board-certified in internal medicine and addiction medicine at his practice, Cross Valley Health & Medicine, PC at 407 Gidney Avenue in Newburgh (845-561-7075). Cross Valley offers general primary care, including, HIV related primary care, general gynecology and women’s health, sexual and STD counseling, diagnosis and treatment and addiction medicine.