The Feminization of Medicine

Recently I went two different doctors.  Both of them were in ob/gyn and I was struck by the difference of my emotions when walking out.

The first visit was with my female doctor.  She was in her late fourties and asked numerous questions about my medical record and history.  While she wasn't a smiling machine, she nodded and kept her gaze on my face.  When she spoke though, it was in an explanatory tone, offering me opportunities to ask questions.  She let the silence sit between us as I pondered if I did have any extra questions for her.  She never touched me in our conversation exchange and I walked away feeling terrific.  I had found a doctor that I could stay with and feel comfortable.  In short, a miracle occured.

The second doctor I visited was quite different.  He was in his early fifties and, similarly to my first doctor, was not the smiling kind.  He, too, asked a multitude of questions, but his eyes traveled to my face only when I paused to think.  On several occassions, he interruted me, assuming he knew the answer to my question when, in fact, he did not.  Ironically, he went the same pace as Dr. #1, never touched me, but the way in which he kept assuming my curiosities and not allowing a reasonable amount of time to simply THINK unnerved me.  I walked out knowing that he was an excellent scientist and a mediocre practicing physician.

While my experiences are hardly uncommon, I find it increasingly disturbing how little my second doctor spent in an educational role.  Believe me, I do my best in reading up about female health and taking extra precautions to ensure hydration, balanced diet, and regular exercise so I don't walk in there with common questions.  I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about my health and I want their opinion.  But that old dream of sitting on a table and just TALKING to my doctor seemed ludicrous in my second visit. 

The first doctor I went to, a woman, seemed to have a general patience around letting the silence in her office simply be.  She didn't rush, she didn't even prompt me.  She simply sat there with a non-judgmental expression on her face face and waited.  Or, as the Center for Bioethics Human Dignity plainly states, "

Research has demonstrated that women doctors possess better communication
skills than men and are more likely to engage in discussions that are
patient-friendly.

As a woman patient, I didn't realize how significant and rare that was until I shared my experiences with friends who had experiences more like the second doctor I visited - nice enough but business-like, thorough but hurried.

My experiences had me curious about the gender differences in medical care and I find it fascinating that my experiences were somewhat accurate in reflecting what research has already proven: women doctors spend more time counseling.  They take on less patients, work less hours, and are more likely to draw a line to balance work and family.  These differences, however slight, are transforming medicine as we know it.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule and I am in now way insinuating that all men doctors need to work on their bedside manners, or that all female physicians are are patient and open as the one who treated me.  I'm saying that the way our doctors visits go will be changed by the increasing number of women who will have Dr. in front of their name.  And while this change will come with various challenges and struggles to the field of medical practioners, as an actual patient receiving services, who wants to squeeze every last drop with my doctor when I finally am able to go, this change can't come soon enough.

Comments

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Thank you!

Very, very interesting. As a grad student specializing in sociology of medicine, this is a dynamic I have not heard about before. Much of the field is dominated by patient-side concerns and epidemiology rather than physician-side influence.

If I ever pursue this as a research topic I'll throw a shout out to your blog and Bitch! :)

Despite my assumption that I

Despite my assumption that I would have a better overall experience with female healthcare providers, I haven't. Even though I tend to search out female providers, I usually call the staff at the office to ask for their recommendations. I have received wonderful care from older male physicians.

In my work as an RN in a large metropolitan teaching hospital, I see many male physicians deliver compassionate & comprehensive care to patients and their families. And, of course, female physicians, too.

The quality of care you receive depends on the person, not on their sex.

Not my experience

I wish that my experience was like this, but for me it's actually the reverse. My primary care physician is a woman and I hate going to her. She talks to her computer rather than to me, doesn't meet my eyes and blames every issue - from a twisted ankle to my migraines - on my weight. My OB/GYN is male (and I never in a million years thought I'd want to go to a male OB/GYN). He answers questions, takes me seriously when I say that something is an issue, he is friendly and going to him is something easy.

I don't think gender actually makes a difference in how treatment occurs. I think it's personality and training.