"It seems to me that there's some residual sexism in that view, that we need men to be sure that we're training the best possible people for our specialty," she said.
Outside of OB-GYN, fewer than a third of doctors are women. Men dominate 37 of the 42 other medical specialties.
When Pari Ghodsi, an OB-GYN in Los Angeles, wears her scrubs outside the hospital, people ask, "Are you a nurse?"
"That doesn't happen the other way around: If you see a man in scrubs, you assume he's a doctor," said Ghodsi, 36.
Nationally, there's no effort to draw more men to OB-GYN by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the OB-GYN professional organization, according to Levy, its vice president for health policy.
"There are no right numbers or wrong numbers for what our specialty looks like," she said.
Levy and others believe the shift is largely driven by patients seeking doctors who seem more like peers than white coats. Younger patients in particular say they can trust someone they know has been vulnerable in the same way.
"Even a female gynecologist has been to a gynecologist," said Taylor Ortega, 28, a comedian in New York City. "There's a lot we know about each other without knowing each other."
Conchita Beronilla, 34, said she believed the male OB-GYN who cared for her while she was in labor couldn't understand her pain. She wanted to "sock him in the face," she said.
"We all go through cramps, we all go through menstrual cycles," said Beronilla, who lives in San Francisco. "Even if they don't have kids, I believe women, we all go through the same particular suffering."
These trends have influenced men too. Some feel socially excluded from OB-GYN departments in medical schools. Others say they don't want to perpetuate a history of men telling women what to do with their bodies.
Tanmaya Sambare, 24, signed up for a class called "Mommies and Babies" in his first year at Stanford University medical school. But he started to think he wouldn't be able to sufficiently empathize with pregnant patients, he said.
"No matter how hard I try I think it's just capped ... because I don't have a uterus," he said.
Some patients prefer male OB-GYNs -- 8 percent, according to a recent review of 23 studies. Those women say they're gentler and better listeners and take their concerns more seriously, perhaps to overcome stereotypes.
Even more women -- 41 percent in the same study -- have no gender preference, a fact that's popular with doctors who say the desire for female physicians has been overstated.
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"We have to do a better job recruiting and dispelling some of the rumors and myths," said Guntupalli, 39, of the University of Colorado. "First and foremost, women want a good doctor."
Indeed, some female OB-GYNs said focusing on gender reduces women's skills to biology and doesn't account for transgender or gender-nonconforming patients who might not relate to female doctors simply because of the physician's gender.
"I've never had kids, so what do I know about the pain of childbirth?" said Dr. Alison Jacoby, an OB-GYN who is part of UC San Francisco's Center of Excellence for Transgender Health. "It has everything to do with communication and empathy, and less on the gender of the provider."
Daniel Spinosa, a medical student at UC San Diego, was told repeatedly that his gender wouldn't stop him from being a skilled OB-GYN.
Spinosa, 30, left a job on Wall Street because he wanted a career in which he could more tangibly help people. He thought he might want to be an oncologist.
But he said that while treating OB-GYN patients in medical school he learned he could develop meaningful relationships with them.
Older male OB-GYNs told him he could be happy with the career. OB-GYNs say they like that the field is dedicated to life, not death, and enjoy the unique mix of clinical work and surgery.
Spinosa, who will begin an OB-GYN training program this year, says he eventually wants to subspecialize in cancers. Male OB-GYNs are more likely to subspecialize, in large part because patients don't tend to be as picky about gender when they have a problem they need solved.
Spinosa, however, believes he could attract patients regardless. It's like his mentors told him, he said: "If you provide good care, your patients will love you, and that's true in any field."
Chelliah, who has two years left of OB-GYN training, said he wants to eventually go into healthcare administration, so he probably won't treat patients daily. For now, though, he cherishes the patients who don't mind that he's a man, he said.
"You leave home knowing that what you're good at and what you're good for have aligned, and that's a beautiful moment," he said.
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