The end of male gynecologists?

Get ready for a walk down one of those less trodden paths. Our story today is based on a report from the LA Times which features Dr. Jerome Chelliah. He’s an OB-GYN doctor completing his residency training in Santa Clara, California. His main complaint? That too many women see him walk into the exam room and immediately ask for a female doctor instead. This, according to Chelliah and some of his colleagues, is not only unfair but may soon drive men out of the field entirely. In fact, there are signs that this is already happening.

“I’ve been rejected many times over,” he said. “As a person of color, I face discrimination in other ways, but it’s not so blatant.… People have no problem saying they don’t want you.”

Chelliah is in a field of medicine where all the patients are female, and it’s more possible than ever for them to demand female doctors.

In 1970, 7% of gynecologists were women. Now 59% are.

Some men fear the falling number of male OB-GYNs could eventually lead to them being excluded from the specialty. They believe this is not only unfair, but also has subtle ramifications that go beyond patients’ comfort on the examination table.

The shift in the numbers is remarkable. As noted in the excerpt above, 59% of practicing OB-GYNs are now women, compared to only 7% in 1970. What’s more, the gender gap among doctors in training for the field is even more stark. Among residents currently training in that specialty, 83% are women compared to 17% who are male. So should we be feeling sympathy for the guys here? Hardly. One obvious factor was pointed out during an interview with OB-GYN professor Dr. Barbara Levy who said, “Nobody was worried at all that there weren’t enough women in OB in the 1970s. Nobody paid any attention to us.”

There’s another major factor to consider, however, even if I’m only addressing it anecdotally. And this is a discussion which cropped up on Twitter recently between a few women I follow, on an evening where I was foolish enough to jump in. There are plenty of women who are simply uncomfortable getting undressed and being probed by a male even for legitimate medical purposes. And there are more than a few men who don’t like the idea of their wives and girlfriends seeing a male gynecologist.

The explanation is obvious, and it’s one reason I jumped into that conversation. Even if the doctor is a skilled physician, you can’t remove the idea that for the males in the field, it’s one heck of a perk to have groups of women lining up at your office every day to get naked for you. Traditionally, when this concern has been raised we were regularly told that it’s a bunch of stuff and nonsense. These men are highly trained professionals who see women undressed at least five days a week. They don’t even pay attention.

Allow me to disabuse you of that notion based on a couple of factors. First of all, speaking from experience, I’ve been in situations where I’ve seen women sans clothing a fair number of times over many decades and I’ve honestly never detected a waning of my interest in the subject. Second, and perhaps more to the point, think about the men who go to work in this field. Most people who head off to college with plans involving lengthy post-graduate studies like medicine and law have to begin the process of making those decisions when they are juniors or seniors in high school. Yes, there’s always room to change majors or make adjustments later, but that’s where the decision making process begins.

With that in mind, consider this: the men who wind up becoming OB-GYNs first began settling on that decision as 16 or 17 year old boys. Trust me on this… I was a 17 year old boy and I can tell you with no uncertainty whatsoever what was on my mind nearly every waking moment back then. I’m not saying that this applies to each and every male who enters the field, but if you’re asking me to believe that it never happens or even happens only rarely, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

By the time I finished going through this explanation during our Twitter conversation, two of the women involved responded with expletives and indicated that they were going to look for a female OB-GYN. Can you blame them? With all that in mind, just take a moment to consider whether or not we should really feel all that bad about the plunging numbers of male OB-GYNs and how unfair it all is, or if that field of medicine will actually suffer if it’s mostly just women practicing in the future.