“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” croons U2 in the song “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World.” The same could be said for the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN).
I entered my career as an OB/GYN physician with a desire to help families at what, for many, is a critical turning point in their lives. As the years go by, I notice that no matter the workplace, I am often only one of a handful of or the only, male OB/GYN on staff.
The slow and steady decrease of men entering this specialty is well known. Reflecting on this, I cannot help but think about my own clinical journey. Working on labor and delivery has had a positive impact on my professional, and personal, growth. Helping my patients navigate a difficult pregnancy or birth experience makes me a better husband and father, improving the care I provide for my patients.
During my third-year clerkship in medical school, I approached my OB/GYN rotation with a bit of trepidation, as the rotation had a reputation as being quite stressful. I was a single male with no children, and I was not sure what to expect or what I had to bring to the table. Everything was foreign to me, so it caught me by surprise when I found myself falling in love with it. In retrospect, though, it made sense. I care deeply about women’s reproductive rights and come from a family of strong, empathetic women who embody service to others in their personal and professional lives.
From being present at the birth of someone’s child (and getting a hug from the new grandma in the room afterward) to participating in a complex pelvic reconstruction that changed a woman’s life, the daily experiences that I had during that clerkship only strengthened my love of the field. When a patient I treated in the emergency room as a medical student told me never to lose my bedside manner, I took that to heart. Entering the field as a full-fledged physician and meeting my dedicated colleagues, I was confident I would be able to maintain the passion for the field that had first hooked me as a student.
In my current role as an OB hospitalist, I work as part of a cohesive medical team. We are charged with meeting the needs of the patient, their partner, family members, or support persons. During difficult deliveries, emergency situations, or tragedies that can occur during pregnancy, a physician’s skills, compassion, and empathy become the most important qualities.
The stereotype of the paternalistic male gynecologist may be well-founded; however, medical training has made great strides over the last few decades to overcome outdated attitudes when it comes to women’s health. Today, medical schools are increasingly focused on teaching skills to elevate physician bedside manner and encourage students to empathize with patients from all walks of life.
While OB/GYN as a specialty has become predominantly female over the last several decades, male medical students interested in specializing in OB/GYN should not be deterred — it is a truly rewarding career. While many patients prefer female OB/GYNs, a number of women do not have a gender preference, and a small percentage still prefer a male physician. Skill-wise, there is nothing I bring to the table that my female colleagues are not equally capable of providing. However, I am committed to being a compassionate and skilled provider for my patients, and my gender has nothing to do with that.
OB/GYN can be a challenging, but incredibly rewarding career. The specialty tends to understand the need for work-life balance and family time outside of work. In my current role as an OB hospitalist, I have an even greater ability to make time for my wife and four children, while maintaining passion for my work. For male medical students considering entering OB/GYN, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
If a male medical student is inspired to pursue a career as an OB/GYN and feels that they can provide genuine and meaningful care for women, they should not let the makeup of the physician workforce dissuade them. Yes, working to attract patients can be more challenging as a male in the field. But if male students have the ability and desire to connect with patients and their families in a meaningful way, and are intent on making a difference through providing excellent care, they should not be deterred.