by MATYLDA BUCZKO
It’s that time again – that time you’ve been putting off for tomorrow. Or the day after. It’s time to book your next appointment at the GP for a pap smear.
Am I the only one who massively procrastinates? Despite the knowledge that the benefits of getting a check up outweigh the relatively brief discomfort, I always find a reason to put it off for one more week. Or one more month. I’m too busy, I’ll say to myself. It’s almost next week anyway, I’ll shrug. It’s not like it’s a strict deadline, I’ll reason.
Then when it’s time to bite the bullet, I always hear myself enquire, “Is there is a female doctor available?” If there is not, I find myself feeling uneasy. Perhaps because in my mid 20s, I’m fairly new to the good old “down there” doctor visit. Perhaps because the idea of a man, potentially double my age, seeing me in all my glory is just too weird, no matter what credentials hang on his wall. I know there’s nothing new to see here, folks. These physicians see this every day – day in, day out.
So why do I still feel uneasy, even when prior experiences have proven to be nothing like my nightmarish expectations? Does this get easier with time? Do insecurities eventually fly out the window and in a few years time I’ll be having a good old chin wag about footy tipping while straddled into the dreaded plastic chair?
According to the Royal Women’s Hospital, in Australia, less than one in five doctors that specialise in women’s health are women. Interestingly, a 2007 survey by a doctor at Sydney’s North Shore Hospital found that 64 percent of women needing a genital health check up asked for a female doctor. With such disparate supply and demand figures, chances that you’ll secure an appointment with a female doctor are slim.
The North Shore Hospital survey also found that 70 percent of men did not have a preference of who examined them, exposing an interesting difference of mentality. Are men inherently more comfortable with their own bodies? Are men more equally at ease with both sexes? Are men simply more capable of separating the clinical from the personal? Or are women being too dramatic and fussy in their preference of female doctors?
There are lots of other issues behind the preference for female doctors besides the intrusive nature of genital checkups. Let’s look at the rise of the lawsuits in this modern age – female patients suing male doctors for sexual harassment, male doctors counter suing for unwanted advances. It seems like just another potential complication in the doctor/patient relationship. Yes, patient options to bring a “chaperone” into the room are available, but I don’t know if I would feel more or less comfortable turning the highly personal experience into a tea party.
Other factors can affect a patient’s comfort level with a female versus male doctor. Many different religious and cultural beliefs exist in Australia that restrict women from being alone in a room with a non-related male. How do clinics that largely service patients of this demographic cope not only with the high demand for female doctors but also with the ethics of respecting patients’ religious beliefs?
The gravitas toward female doctors is perhaps not only the sense of physical ease but the need for an emotional connection. Despite how healthy we feel, a check up always comes with that sense of dread – what if they find something? Female doctors tend to be more personable, more chatty, more motherly. I certainly remember a painful procedure I endured when I had a benign tumour removed from behind my ear. Despite being a young female, alone and clearly in pain as tears streamed down my eyes, my male doctor offered no encouraging words, there was no gentleness in his touch and once the procedure was done I was ushered out so fast I can’t remember if I paid the bill.
Ultimately, aside from religious restrictions, gender is not really the issue. We are all looking for a doctor who shows genuine care, expertise and a light heartedness to put us worry warts at ease. Perhaps we too quick to assume those characteristics belong to women, but I’m sure once my next check up is over, I’ll say farewell to my male doctor and wonder why I made all that fuss.
Matylda Buczko studied Journalism, Literature and Creative Writing at both RMIT and Monash Universities before undertaking a Master’s Degree in Media & Communications at Swinburne University. Currently, she is the Communication Coordinator in the Melbourne office of Marie Stopes International, a global health care organisation.
Do you put off visits to the doctor? Do you prefer a male or a female doctor?