How much does gender matter when choosing an OB/GYN?

October 3, 2012 in Medical Care

2012 will be my 15th year as a Urogynecologist – an OB/GYN who specializes in the treatment of incontinence and pelvic prolapse.  Every so often a patient will ask me or one of the staff members in my office “wouldn’t I be better off going to a female doctor for these problems?” This is a legitimate question.  As a male practitioner of women’s medicine and surgery, here are some of my thoughts:

One assumption you might make is that women must be inherently better as OB/GYN’s because of their personal experience of being female, but this isn’t as much of a plus as it might seem.  Sometimes your personal experience may actually impair your ability to empathize with someone having a different experience from you. If I was female and never experienced painful menstrual cramps and you (my patient) were terribly bothered by them, I might discount your experience.  Deep understanding and empathy come from participating in the care of thousands of women with gynecologic problems and all the different experiences they have, and choices that they make. 
Let me be clear.  I am NOT in any way implying that males are inherently BETTER as OB/GYN’s. All successful physicians derive their competency from the sum of their experience of listening to thousands of patients. I have not heard any discussion about whether or not only people who have had cancer can truly be competent as oncologists. 

Another legitimate concern is that women are more comfortable with having a women seeing and examining their reproductive organs. I completely understand that for your initial visit, all other things being equal, you may have less anxiety when a woman is the one you talk to for 10 or 15 min about your most intimate bodily functions and then they poke and probe at your most private areas.  But, other than that initial contact, the rapport and ongoing experience you have is much more important than the gender of the doctor.  I have had the privilege of training obstetrician gynecologists for more than a decade and I have seen sensitive and gentle practitioners of both genders as well as insensitive and rough practitioners of both genders.
In the end then, I think the important things to consider when choosing someone to be your OB/GYN is the experience of other patients – if you are lucky enough to have current or former patients to talk to.  Also, pay attention to their reputation among other healthcare providers in the community – such as your primary care physician or another specialist. Least important is the med school they went to.  Good doctors come from everywhere.  While a male may indeed make you a bit more apprehensive at your first visit, if they are a thoughtful and competent practitioner, I do not think that gender matters that much. 

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