I’m sure my male classmates will back me up on this one: I swear, every time I knock on a door, open it and say hello, I get a little look of awkwardness and discomfort from my patients. It’s a mix of surprise, disappointment and disapproval. Only once has a patient said, “Wow, great, a male in the field, you don’t really see that very often anymore!” Maybe I’m over calling it, and some of it is just made up in my head, a product of my own insecurity with the exam–but I swear it’s there at least half of the time.
In some ways, it makes me try harder, which I guess is a good thing. I try to be even more respectful and caring; I try to make even more outward shows of compassion than I do already. Empathize, use normalizing statements (“I ask all my patients about their reproductive and sexual health,” “This is an incredibly common problem among women, even if it’s not discussed very often in public,” etc.). I realize the exam puts a person in an incredibly vulnerable situation, and it probably doesn’t help that I’m a young man and that many of my patients are my age or younger. I also realize this may be the first time a male physician has seen their genitalia since before puberty (or any male unless they’ve been in a relationship with one), but I feel like the look still exists in many of my older patients as well.
I realize all of this, but still. It’s discouraging and frustrating. I’m not present to make my patients feel uncomfortable. If I could somehow learn everything I need to learn without making anyone uneasy I would, but I can’t. Unlike many other fields of medicine where you’ll never do another pelvic exam in your life, I actually need to know how to perform them adequately as a future Emergency Medicine physician.
For the most part, I’ve actually been enjoying my rotation thus far, but it’s been the first and only where I’ve felt so actively discouraged by patients. Usually my upbeat attitude and smile engender (no pun intended) some points from the patient, but during the past three weeks most of what I detect is disappointment. The nurses and attendings have been absolutely positive, enthusiastic, and encouraging, which has been immensely helpful, but I think I’ve discovered another reason why OB-Gyn is such a woman-dominated field.
(This is not a boo-hoo, woe is me post, just an observation I’ve made. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s just as awkward–if not worse–for my female colleagues when examining men. It’s not the end of the world, and is a minor annoyance at best: I’m professional, get the job done, ask the questions that need to be asked, and do my best. This is what defines medicine as a profession: we put our patients’ needs and concerns ahead of our own. This does not, of course, mean that we as professionals are not affected by these situations, just that we work past them.)