Gender Preference for Doctors

Do you care if you have a male or female doctor?

Mother getting prenatal care

The Image Bank / Getty Images

When it comes to your practitioner the gender debate is a heated one among women. Should you choose a male or female doctor? Does one hold an advantage over the other? Many women say yes, there are huge differences, while others say no; it is all dependent on the personality, not the gender, of the doctor.

"I wanted someone who could understand what I was going through when I was pregnant. So I switched from my regular male gynecologist to a female because she had had babies herself," says first-time mom, Andrea.

Does knowing what a contraction feels like make your doctor a better doctor? Probably not, particularly considering that there are female doctors who have never given birth or never had a contraction either. This can certainly be something that aids with empathy, but there are a lot of things that can help with this that have nothing to do with doing it themselves.

"My male doctor was away when I went into labor. The nurse told me that it was a female doctor," says Robin, of her first birth. "I remember thinking, 'Oh she'll be fine and understanding.' That wasn't the case at all, she was awful! My male doctor was so much more empathetic."

One thing that we tend to forget is that gender issues aside; the doctors have all been trained in basically the same system. This means that much of how they relate to patients can be traced to their training program and not their gender, not to mention basic personalities.

It would be stereotypical to say that all men responded one way and all women another. Life simply doesn't work that way. We're shaped by our past experiences, our training, and just who we are in general.

Does the gender debate rage in other areas? You bet it does. Look at the surge in midwifery. Women are saying that they want to be cared for by other women. Midwife means with woman. That said, there are more than a few male midwives out there. Many of them are in the military, but that is spreading in lots of places. Heck, there are even male doulas out there working happily and successfully in the birth world.

Some wonder if this should be allowed. The truth of the matter is that women choose to see practitioners based on many different reasons, including gender for some, but also location, where they practice, what insurance they take and the philosophies of their practice. If that is the case why not allow men to practice midwifery? After all, you have the choice of not going with these practices.

Some practices are springing up that are all one gender (men or women) for those that have a preference.

"I really wanted a woman doctor," explained Cheri, with her second baby. "I didn't think I could control ensuring my doctor was always there, but at least with the all women's practice I knew that my back up would be a woman and that was what I needed."

While many women do have gender preference in their doctors or midwives, a study done by the American College of OB/GYNs (ACOG) says that most women don't have a preference in a man or woman. That said, it remains a fact that women will continue to choose their doctors and other practitioners based on a variety of reasons. These personal reasons remain the crucial element in this very important choice.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.