When it came time to make my first appointment with a gynecologist, I had but one request: that the doctor was a woman.
My mother paused and looked at me, genuinely surprised by my stipulation.
“Elizabeth, I’ve always gone to a male gynecologist,” she informed me. “You were delivered by a male obstetrician. Trust me, when you’re giving birth you don’t care who is delivering the baby, as long as they’re doing a good job.”
Right, I thought, but I’m an anxious teenager and not about to deliver a baby any time soon.
I had read enough articles in Seventeen and YM to know that your first trip to the gynecologist was going to be embarrassing and painful, and they’d make you sit in what looked like a torture device while probing and prodding you on the inside. There was no way I was going to go through that with anyone who hadn’t experienced that exam themselves.
It wasn’t that I thought male OB-GYNs were in any way less competent or qualified — it was just a matter of doing what made me feel most comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable situation.
And I’m hardly alone. In a 2005 survey, 28 percent of women reported that they preferred going to a female OB-GYN, while only 6 percent preferred their OB-GYN to be male.
But it appears that the largest group of women — 66 percent, to be exact — were much more open-minded than I am and had no gender bias when it came to selecting an OB-GYN. At least odds are in my favor, though. Women currently make up around 85 percent of OB-GYN residents.
Personal preferences aside, I’ve always wondered how men end up as OB-GYNs. What made them pick that specialization? I spoke with a few male OB-GYNs to find out.
For some, like Dr. Gerardo Bustillo, gynecologist and medical director of minimally invasive surgery at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, it’s in the genes. His mother worked as an OB-GYN in her native Cuba and his older sister is an OB-GYN and fertility expert.
For others, it came down to interest and seeking a long-term medical relationship with patients.
Dr. Marc Winter, gynecologist and medical director of minimally invasive surgery at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, knew he wanted to be a doctor and work in an environment where he could help people. His second rotation in medical school was in obstetrics and gynecology, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed working in that area.
“As opposed to general surgery, I liked the idea of taking care of women over a long period of time and having the opportunity to develop long-term relationships,” Winter told SheKnows.
Dr. Thomas Ruiz, an OB-GYN with MemorialCare Medical Group in Fountain Valley, California, also saw the benefit of working with patients on a long-term basis.
“I manage women from their teens through their menopause and aging,” Ruiz explained. “My patients are generally healthy, so even when they become sick, they most often recover.
"When the disease process for my patients requires a procedure, there is generally a full recovery with improved quality of life.”
Unsurprisingly, getting to deliver babies is a popular part of the job.
“Delivering babies was a huge surprise, as I had never been exposed to it,” Winter said. “I loved being involved in mostly positive medicine and also enjoyed the challenge of dealing with the occasional true emergency during childbirth since I was able to stay calm and do what needed to be done.”
Ruiz agreed, noting that it is “also very satisfying to hand over a new life to parents” and that “obstetrics is for the most part a very happy specialty.”
But what about the question of gender and patient relations? In each of the doctors’ experiences, they have been successfully able to relate to their patients, despite never having had a period or giving birth.
Ruiz said that initially some of his patients were reluctant to see him, but after the consult, “the gender barrier melts away.” He also noted that, “as a male provider, my empathy allows me to be nonthreatening to my patients.”
Being male was irrelevant for Winter, as was the fact that his practice would only take care of women; his thought was only in terms of what he would be doing and being successful helping people.
“Most neurosurgeons never had a brain tumor, most cardiologists do not have severe heart disease, most psychiatrists do not have schizophrenia, etc.,” Winter pointed out. “If I was having surgery, I would want the best surgeon in that specialty to perform the operation regardless of gender, and I think most women feel that way.”
The bottom line is that each doctor wants to ensure that patients receive the best care possible.
“Life today is all about choice,” Bustillo said. “It's wonderful that today's woman has the option of having her reproductive health needs provided by one of countless excellent female OB-GYNs throughout the country.”