Illinois action blog

Friday, October 12, 2007

From a doctor's perspective

HT to OBOB for pointing me in the direction of "over my med body!" a blog by Graham Walker, a 5th year med student. He blogged about his rotation at a Planned Parenthood clinic:

The patients I’ve seen have been, in general, young, healthy women, ages 12 to 26. They come in primarily for three things:

  1. annual exams (pap smears, breast exams, etc.),
  2. sexually-transmitted infection (STIs) diagnosis and treatment,
  3. and birth control.

I see patients of all socio-economic statuses, but most are immigrants or lower-middle class women. Their health knowledge runs the gamut, from the highly educated 12 year-old I saw today, who curiously asked “how exactly do the birth control pills work?” to the 23 year-old who shrugs and answers questions with a dull, empty look on her face. Almost every single one uses some form of birth control.

Yes, Graham is a man. I fully admit to wanting and seeing only women doctors - if I can help it. When you're in the hospital the only doctor doing rounds is a guy, you take the guy. I'm just more comfortable having by girly parts looked at my a girl. Well Graham blogs about this too:

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.

It really makes me think. If we really want to have awesome feminist (an assumption on my part) men in the movement with us, why are we unwilling to have them treat us too? I dunno. All I do know is that I've added his blog to my RSS reader.

Technorati tags: Planned Parenthood Aurora, Planned Parenthood, women's health

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Anonymous Cara said...

I actually think that there are a lot of good reasons why women are uncomfortable receiving a pap smear from male doctors. Surely, some of it comes from stereotyping. In my experience, male doctors are less gentle. Is that a stereotype? Of course. Is it entirely right of me to therefore want a female gynecologist? Probably not. But whose body is it? There are also issues of religious upbringing and history of sexual abuse. And of course a teenager talking about sexual activity with any adult is going to be uncomfortable for her, let alone a member of the opposite sex. We have to remember that women are socialized from day one to hide their bodies and bodily functions from men, as if they are secret women things that will only gross out the boys and shame you. After a very long history of men medicalizing female bodies, I also think that there is an awful lot to be said for women treating women. And of course we have to remember that a majority of women who go to Planned Parenthood or any other health clinic are not going to be feminists.

None of this means that I'm not grateful for male doctors. I am. And of course (working at one and all!), I am grateful for Planned Parenthood. I understand his frustration, I do. I think that it's probably a knee-jerk reaction. I'm just suggesting that a bit more sensitivity might be in order. We also have a massive problem in this country of patients not realizing that they are the ones in charge and with rights. Patients, particularly women, are very commonly afraid to advocate for themselves. And in that light, I think that anyone honestly expressing what they feel about an exam to be a very, very good thing and something that we should actively encourage.

October 13, 2007 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Same reason I prefer having a female dentist? If I'm lying back in a vulnerable and ridiculous position with some part of me gaping open that usually isn't, do I just want to make sure that the person poking around and telling me what and what not to do doesn't have some kind of sinister sexist motive?

I know that sounds really silly, but it's the least silly reason that I can come up with to explain my own personal preferences. Cara hit on some excellent points, especially about the "secret women things." How can we not feel jittery around male ob/gyn doctors after a young lifetime of separate sex ed presentations for boys and girls? I'm sure teachers only want to reduce outbursts of giggling and "Gross!" (and of course the corporations do it because there's no market for tampons among 5th grade boys), but then later we see female patients who are uncomfortable and embarrassed and male doctors who are frustrated and discouraged.

October 23, 2007 at 9:20 PM  

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