Health & Spirit

Male OB-GYNs are in decline, stirring debate

Soumya Karlamangla, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Health & Fitness

Chelliah, 28, became an OB-GYN because he wanted to get to know his patients, not just their medical problems.

OB-GYNs often treat the same women for decades, helping them pick a birth control method and cope with menopause. They care for mothers through pregnancy and share in the joy of new families.

"We have a front-row seat to life that no one else has," said Chelliah, who is completing OB-GYN residency training at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Clara, Calif.

Yet the job can feel cruel. Chelliah recently noticed a sign on a patient room with a picture of a baby's foot. Above it, "Female providers only." He kept walking.

Patients can legally discriminate by sex, race or any other factor when choosing a physician, and some women feel more comfortable talking about intimate health topics with women.

Brooke Hamel, 19, recently went to get an intrauterine device inserted by a doctor recommended by her sister. She quickly started crying.

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"He touched me and I immediately lost it," said Hamel, who lives in Yorktown, Va. "As soon as I had to spread my legs, I was in a really vulnerable place, and I did not want to be in that position with a male."

Male medical students say OB-GYN patients at universities often ask that they not be in the exam room. While female students are awed by helping deliver their first baby, men can miss out.

"It sends a horrible message to men who might have a nascent interest in OB-GYN that's promptly quashed," said Dr. Carl Smith, head of the OB-GYN department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Men are now less likely than ever to try to become OB-GYNs. Only about 17 percent of current OB-GYN residents are men. Smith and others say that if their numbers keep dropping, it could weaken the field overall.


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