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Why Male Ob/gyns Are Working Differently

KLARA BAUTERS: On a Tuesday morning in Greenpoint, Sara, steps into her studio apartment with floral patterns everywhere. On her bed, on the table, and she's even wearing a chocolate brown sundress with small flowers on it. 


SARA: “I'm from California, and I definitely take my colorful, coastal aesthetic with me.  So, yeah, that's my apartment.”


BAUTERS: Sarah is one of many patients who prefers a female ob/gyn. I’m not using her full name because Sarah was sexually assaulted and she’s not comfortable sharing the details publicly. The recent exposure of Dr. Robert Hadden, a former gynecologist who was convicted of sexual assault has only made her feel worse.  He was found guilty of assaulting hundreds of women for decades at Columbia University Hospital. Lawyers put ads in the subway, to notify potential victims about the case. For Sarah, the news made her feel sick. It brought her right back to 2015, when she was sexually assaulted by her own male ob/gyn.


SARAH: “I, uh, felt like I had a burning sensation into my heart.  area.  So I assumed that I had a urinary tract infection or UTI. Um, and normally, you know, I'd go to the doctor, give a urine sample and then they'd give me antibiotics.  according to my foggy memory and also according to documents, um, from the, the situation was, um, that, uh, the doctor instead examined me.”


BAUTERS: Most of the time, when a doctor does an exam it’s normal, or necessary. But Sarah knew something was wrong because in the past, when she had a UTI, she never got an exam. So she told her roommate - something was wrong.


SARAH: I remember my roommate saying, oh, yeah, she heard too that he was creepy. I didn't realize that creepy could actually be, you know, Doing something illegal. 

BAUTERS:She only realized years later, when the LA times published an investigation on her obgyn, what had really happened. Her doctor had assaulted potentially thousands of women.

SARA: “for years, I kind of realized, again, after the fact, I would, like, wear certain clothes to hide my body because I really just wanted, I wanted to avoid having men look at me, if possible.”


BAUTERS: Including male doctors, especially ob/gyns. While reporting this story I heard from over 80 people. Most of them identified as female. Some said they don’t care who their ob/gyn is, as long as their insurance covers them, others have been very happy with their male ob/gyn. Very few mentioned the recent cases of sexual assault, but the majority of the people I heard from were resolute: when it comes to ob/gyns, gender does matter. Dr. Lee is a male ob/gyn. That preference is all too familiar to him. 


MATTHEW LEE: “It happens at a minimum, maybe once per week, every other week, and then sometimes even more frequently. The most frequent example, and it's as simple as me seeing a patient in clinic and them explicitly stating that I prefer a female provider. And that can sometimes be just for the exam portion or for the whole, for the visit as a whole.”

BAUTERS: Lee says he became an ob/gyn because of his firm belief that healthy communities are built on healthy women. He recognizes that some of his patients may have experienced  injustice or assault and that means he’s happy to work harder for them.

LEE: And you cannot ignore that and just be blind to it. I think is incredibly appropriate impact that it does have.I think as a male OBGYN. You have to be cognizant of that fact and work even harder to overcome. Maybe you're starting from one step back in terms of building trust with your patient.”


BAUTERS: According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, when it comes to gender, ob/gyn is the most lopsided medical specialty. 85% of current ob/gyn residents are women. And that percentage is steadily increasing.

For New Yorker Katherine Maller, the trust she had in her male ob/gyn disappeared the moment she gained weight.

KATHERINE MALLER: I graduated, I started a job and as, Happens when you start a desk job. I gained a little weight. I think I gained like five or ten pounds

BAUTERS: Maller was only 20 and it was only the second time she’d been to an obgyn. She wasn’t sure what to expect and she felt vulnerable.

MALLER: he was just like conducting his exam and then like, you know, he's in between my legs, um, naked from the waist down and he's just asking me like, oh, well, what are you doing for exercise? Like, have you, you know, what are you doing to keep fit? 


These questions might not make everyone feel bad, but as a 20-year old young woman and a much older male doctor looking at her thighs… Maller felt fat shamed.

MALLER: I was speechless. and I was ready to like, have the appointment be over and get Out of there as fast as possible And then, um, yeah, I never went back to him because I felt so uncomfortable.

BAUTERS: Dr. Nguyen researches gender bias in the medical field. He’s also a male ob/gyn at USC and he has some tips for his male colleagues. Especially those who teach.

NGUYEN: I think it's really important for medical professors to emphasize that our number one job in teaching the next generation of physicians is to teach empathy, um, and to teach radical empathy. 

BAUTERS: He says radical empathy means being willing to understand where a patient is coming from. And to put that above all else you’re thinking or feeling. 

NGUYEN: and to prioritize that over what we may be feeling. We may be prioritizing our own education or our own ego

BAUTERS: For Sarah, the Greenpoint resident who was sexually assaulted by her doctor, her own traumatic experiences kick in every now and then. She even gets nervous when she has to go to an eye doctor. The fact that he is a man and a doctor is enough. Preparing doctors for patients like Sara is why Dr. WENN says another critical strategy is making sure medical schools teach Trauma informed care.

NGUYEN: “The best practice that we can do as, uh, providers of sensitive services is to, uh, you know, make the baseline assumption that, you know, This patient, uh, is a sensitive patient who may have been through some kind of trauma and therefore that should inform the way that we should practice.

BAUTERS: Sarah’s traumatic experience didn’t make her hate men. She has many men in her life she loves, like her boyfriend, but for now she’s sticking with women ob/gyns. 

Klara Bauters, Columbia Radio News

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