Dr Mindy and Dr Danny from The Mindy Project.
“Why did the young doctor decide to specialise in gynaecology after he graduated medical school? There were a lot of openings!” goes the gag, which while admittedly clever in wordplay, says a lot about the way we’ve viewed male gynaecologists over the years, more like outdated oddities and punchline opportunities than respectable professionals.
And it’s somewhat understandable. What kinda man would make vaginas his line of work, like those bumbling fools Danny, Peter and Jeremy on The Mindy Project, spending days fiddling between women’s legs and chatting awkwardly about things they don’t really understand, like menstrual flow? Surely, that man must be some sorta perverted weirdo, right?
Relax, it’s medicine, guys. Despite the profession’s prevalence as the basis for romantic sitcom shenanigans and off-colour pub jokes, male gynaecologists are things that actually exist... although the numbers are on a pretty significant downward trend.
Dr Danny (Chris Messina) from The Mindy Project.
According to figures in the US, in 1990 just 22.4% of all Ob/Gyns were women; in 2010, that figure jumped to nearly 49%. Local figures show that the trend is worldwide: as stated in a 2010 report from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, “there is increasing feminisation of the specialist obstetric and gynaecology workforce. In 2000, 57% of trainees were female; this has risen to 71% in 2010.” In 2013, the number’s risen again to 78%.
The figures seem to match up with anecdotal evidence. While a number of my female friends acknowledged having acquaintances who’d admitted to feeling more comfortable with male Ob/Gyns and others who’d professed to having no preference at all, the general consensus was that they’d prefer a female doctor to do those downstairs inspections.
So, taking into account both the ongoing cultural jibes and patients’ growing demand for female Ob/Gyns, what is it that still attracts dudes to the profession? Last month, a bunch of male gynaecologists took part in an eye-opening Reddit AMA, where they offered some fascinating insights into what made them pursue obstetrics over other medical fields, and challenged many of the negative ideas propagated by sappy TV shows, creepy Buzzfeed stories, and our depraved collective consciousness. Some of the more telling quotes included:
“It’s nice to have ‘healthier’ patients, as lots of pregnancy visits are young women who aren’t dying.”
The most commonly cited reason was also the most understandable: dealing with babies is obviously way more enjoyable than dealing with slowly decaying old people. “In no other specialty do people come to see me so often because they’re healthy,” wrote one Redditor. “[My father] said that it made him the happiest,” added another. “He told me Ob/Gyn dealt more with the life aspect of medicine, whereas nearly every other specialty dealt with death or the prevention of death.”
“C-sections are fun. It’s like surgery with a prize.”
The way these respondents talked about it, working on C-sections sounds a bit like playing carnival games. “It’s a fast moving procedure that requires definitive and deliberate action and results in a new life; it’s the best operation I’ve seen thus far,” wrote Wolfgang3750. He continued by praising the other technical opportunities that come with working in the field. “Treatments for infertility combine top shelf aspects of surgery, laboratory work, endocrinology, technology, and patient interaction. It’s impressive.”
“The feels. You get to do surgery, and you get the feels. It was an easy choice for me.”
As you might imagine, there’s something pretty special about making childbirth one’s central professional concern. “There is nothing like labour and delivery,” wrote one Redditor in a sentiment echoed by many. “Being a part of that moment for a family is a profound and humbling experience.”
“My Gyn looks like Walter Matthau and will probably retire soon. I’m not looking forward to that. Great guy.”
I have nothing to add to this one, that’s just a pretty great quote.
Alongside those responses, a number of commenters vented their frustrations at the negative connotations often associated with men in the role.
“There is NOTHING erotic about the job.”
While acknowledging the potential presence of “creepos” in the profession (including one Redditor’s gross story her nurse mother told her about an Ob/Gyn who would “get a hard-on whenever a baby crowned” – it was met with a chorus of “ew” by the other Redditors, obviously), respondents universally dismissed the possibility of sexual desire clouding their professional responsibilities.
“As far as the actual examination of ladyparts, [my father] said that it became a job like everything else. The sexual aspect was completely removed when he was in a patient’s room,” said Domerhead. “It’s not too difficult to stay focused, especially when you know one unprofessional slip up could cost you your entire career,” added another Redditor.
“As a dude doing Ob/Gyn, I get it. I don’t have those parts. I don’t have periods. I don’t get pregnant. It doesn’t mean that I am not compassionate.”
According to some students and first-year practitioners, such concerns have led to a lack of opportunities in shadowing senior Ob/Gyns and the “prohibitive need for chaperones”. “While it’s always important to make sure your patient feels safe and comfortable, the need to bring someone else in labour is intensive and constantly reminds you that you are not intrinsically trusted, despite your dedication to your patients,” wrote one Redditor. “The female preference for female providers does worry me somewhat – but honestly, it is entirely understandable,” added another.
While male gynaecologists-in-training may lament the current trend, the obvious upside of more women entering the previously male-dominated medical sphere is to patients, who now have the opportunity to choose whatever kinda doc they feel more comfortable with. The rest of the AMA garnered interesting responses from female patients describing their own perspectives on the issue: some indicated they preferred female gynaecologists ‘cause they “know the equipment”, while others said they preferred male gynaecologists precisely because they don’t know it and therefore had a gentler bedside manner.
In the end, though, it’s still some stranger sticking latex fingers up your bits, but at least such discussions help shed light on the positive reasons for why male doctors might pursue such an unlikely field. Remember: he’s not casting judgement on your privates or looking for wife material, he’s probably just in it for the C-sections.