The male gynecologist can be a polarizing figure: Some women avoid them as a personal policy, while others actively seek them out. Regardless of your stance, though, they’re becoming a rare breed. Nationally, 80% to 90% of people graduating in OB/GYN are women; and at NYU School of Medicine, approximately one out of seven OB/GYN residents are male. But what motivates those who do choose this female-dominated — and female-focused — field?
We asked ten male gynecologists, ages 30 to 70, about how they ended up in the vagina-care business.
Covering emergency room at 3 a.m. during medical school, I saw a guy sitting on the examining table. I said, “What’s the problem?” He responded, “There’s no problem. My wife thinks I’m having a heart attack. But there’s no problem.” He probably was having a heart attack (I never found out), but the point is … women are better patients than men. They have no qualms about telling us what’s wrong with them, and therefore we can do what we need to do to get them better. With women, it’s like, “Give me the information, and take my advice.” That system works pretty well. And it’s very satisfying to make people better.
“I’m kind of freaked out by death.”
It might sound strange coming from a doctor, but I’m kind of freaked out by sickness and death. Becoming an OB/GYN translated into life and family and the beauty of humanity for me. There’s so much hope in my office, not much doom and gloom! Of course, it’s not always a picnic. My female friends in medical school said examining women was “too smelly,” which of course can be a factor, but in general, women take excellent care of themselves, and it’s a great privilege talking to them about health and wellness all day long. I’d like to think it’s not a factor, but because I’m gay, perhaps there’s an added layer of trust. All my patients try to fix me up. I’ll be giving a pap and someone will say, “You want to meet my kid’s drama teacher?”
“Women’s health care is far superior.”
I don’t care what they say: Women’s health care is far superior than men’s health care, and I wanted in. (Well, menopause treatment was one of the biggest medical blunders of all time, and no one has ever apologized for it, but other than that … ) The top cancers that get women — breast, colon, cervix, ovarian, uterine — we can prevent four out of the five of those. If you come in often enough and take all the preventable measures, you can find things, and you can fix them … almost always.
“I grew up with six sisters.”
I did both an MD and PhD in med school and found OB/GYN and reproductive endocrine ripe for research. It is also generally “happy medicine,” one where I can make a huge impact on the patient and her family. It is also a great field where there is a combination of medicine and surgery with favorable outcomes. Finally, I grew up with six sisters, and so I was used to having my life revolve around estrogen, ovulation, and hormones.
“I’ve had patients hit on me.”
Of all the specialties in med school, I was sure gynecology was the one I wouldn’t want. As a straight male, I didn’t want to ruin my love of the vagina. Years into it now, I’m never more professional than I am with a patient. The vagina is so desensitized to me, I hardly notice anything about it. But if a woman is attractive, I do have to fight that part of my brain. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I’ve had patients legitimately hit on me — one immediately after her abortion, and another right after a pelvic exam.
“A great honor.”
I was raised and surrounded by very strong women, I married a really strong woman, and I have so much respect for the issues that make women special. I loved the idea of being involved in meaningful parts of women’s lives — their sexual health, reproductive health, abortion care, walking them through their childbearing years, dealing with cancer. The female body is a metaphor for her womanhood, and I am granted access to her whole identity. That’s a great honor.
“The miracle of birth.”
My buddy laughs when he recalls his med-school days. He’s a goofy guy endlessly stuck in adolescence. He always says he was thinking of OB/GYN so he could do breast exams all day. Fortunately, he ended up in neurology! I went into it for the miracle of giving birth … that never gets old.
“I chose half the human race.”
I was originally in internal medicine, but that was right when doctors were beginning to “specialize,” and I couldn’t find six inches of the body to specialize in. Instead, I chose half the human race. Plus, I like women better than men. I’m not a sports guy. I gravitate to female conversation. The only caveat is I have no style.
“I worried I’d have no patients.”
I was nervous about being a young, male gynecologist. Frankly, I worried I’d have no patients. But I’ve learned that some women still prefer male doctors, and it’s not for the reasons you might think. They say men are more sensitive on average, more responsive to their concerns. I’ve heard that men are better at pelvic exams because we’re so terrified of causing discomfort that we’re obsessively gentle. Male doctors are less dismissive of a woman’s problems because everything sounds so terrifying and horrifying to us since we don’t go through it. Like, tell us your period is heavy and we feel awful about it! There are people who aren’t allowed to have a male doctor … mostly Muslim … and teenage girls and young women who have not yet had a baby are more likely to want a female … but once a woman has pushed out a kid, it’s like, “Who gives a crap?!” From a recruiting perspective, male gynecologists are a minority, and programs are interested in us — straight men in particular — to reinforce the notion that men still belong in the field, and it’s not just women-to-women care that matters. Focusing on women-to-women care superimposes that there’s a sexual element there, and that makes us think of medicine the wrong way.
“I didn’t like surgeons.”
During third year of med school we all rotated though the various specialties. I loved surgery but didn’t like the surgeons. I loved medicine but didn’t like the old patients and chronic conditions that never seemed to be cured. I hated pediatrics, mostly because of the annoying parents of healthy kids! But OB/GYN was unexpectedly fun. The doctors were all very affable, and some were actually funny. The patients were more healthy than not, and delivering babies was just about the coolest thing ever. I really bonded with two or three docs, and they became my mentors for the rest of my career.