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Harvard Health Blog
Does your doctor’s gender matter?
Robert H. Shmerling, MD,
Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
I just so happen to be considering a change from a foreign born male hematologist to (hopefully) a female. I’m not sure if I can get a switch or not but am not too happy with this Doctor who has had me on a strong anticholinergic drug for a newly found blood disorder for nearly a year. I recently researched the drug and it appears my fatigue and tiredness was not entirely from my condition, but a side effect of this strong sedating antihistamine on my brain. I have usually preferred & had a female primary but needed a specialist so I did not complain. I feel he does not have the compassion & the honesty required to treat a 71 year old woman this way. I still have good mental ability but I think a woman doctor would not have been this uncaring. Apparently, if I continue to take this drug I am risking the onset of Dementia & or AD in the future.
Higher levels of empathy might be the reason for the apparent difference between male and female doctors. I’ve had male doctors with high levels of empathy and female doctors who wouldn’t score well, so this might be a better predictor of outcomes than gender.
Another factor for older adults is that we have early experiences with authoritarian male doctors. I was terrified of doctors as a child because they made the symptoms of the abuse I was receiving at home sound like a psychosomatic weakness on my part. I wonder if the results would be the same for patients in a different generation.
A doctor friend said that younger patients are more likely to research their symptoms on the Internet , self-diagnose, and insist on being prescribed a certain medication whether the doctor agrees or not. She said older doctors tend to have a harder time dealing with these patients.
This may suggest a change in the way medical students are being selected and trained.
ofcourse be it any part of the world doctors gender does matter. When my wife was carrying she was triple sure that she would consult only a female Gyno. This helps them to be more connected and understand for the matter. Even some men would prefer a male when they have issues which they are not comfortable sharing to an opposite gender. drpkahlon.com Steve, Dentist
It seems like in many occupations men are more likely to try to increase their pay by doing things that are detrimental for their customers.
Not a very “scientific” comment, but I’ve had several surgeries including heart bypass, brain tumor removal, two cancer surgeries. I’m also a type 2 diabetic, with a bad heart (100% service-connected veteran for heart), so many doctors don’t want to deal with me.
If I had a choice, based on my observations & experiences, I’d prefer a female physician. I’ve never talked to a female physician who came across as “I know what’s best for you. Trust me, I’m next to God”. I ran across that attitude often with males.
Females tend to talk in such a way that you are included in your medical care. You become invested and I believe that’s half the battle.
My woman doctor was too busy “running around with her kids” to follow up on some crucial labwork, and when she did finally call, sounded exhausted and distracted. I had to be the one to suggest additional testing and analysis of results. As far as empathy…not so sure…I’ve been to some pretty cold hearted female ob-gyns.
I think the likeliest cause does have something to do with the higher levels of empathy present in the average female vs the average male (and it is my understanding that physicians generally score well behind the general population when tested for empathy…which is a grave concern in itself…something is clearly amiss with the type of person being admitted to medical school in the first place and with how they are trained).
Those who actually CARE more about their patients are more motivated to practice cautious and comprehensive medicine, because it will actually bother them if their incompetence were the source of their patient’s suffering.
Despite my nervousness, I adapted to female doctors: surgeon, PCP, and — surprise — urologist PA. I’ve also see gruff and non-nurturing deal with my wife (though a specialist, she didn’t know Lyme Disease!). It may say more about the patient (i.e., assume women are nurturing) than about the doctor. OUr ages: late ’70s.
I am a white male in my mid-60’s. In 1985 my employer offered a medical insurance plan which included an HMO with a highly-reputable clinic and hospital. I chose that plan and, in enrolling, it gave me several choices as primary care physician. I chose a woman because I felt a woman might be more likely to be dedicated to the profession, as not many women were then encouraged go into medicine. It was a great decision. Since then, because of moves, I’ve had three more PCPs and all have been women. All have been caring and attentive.
I am a 82 year old white male that was very healthy until about 4 years ago when I had a pacemaker installed by a male doctor. This operation has turned out very well with no problems.
In the last two years I have had 7 operations on joints and other minor problems. They all were performed by male doctors and turned out to be fine. I had two broken bones removed from my back, cataracts removed by a by a female doctor from both eyes, both hips replaced by a male doctor and both hands operated on by a male doctor. This was a total of 7 operations. All the doctors were just as caring and the operations turned out fine with no problems. The female doctor probably took more time with me and was very good. I would not put her above the care etc. given to me by the male doctors.
I, on the contrary of what I just read above, I prefer male
doctors ; for some reason, they inspire me more confidence.
Yet, some of my doctors, I have many health problems, are
I trust more male doctors, especially in heart, surgery,
psychiatry, orthopedic procedures.
For your informatiion I live in São Paulo, Brazil
JUST LEFT THE “CARE” OF A FOREIGN-BORN FEMALE PHYSICIAN WHO WAS TOTALLY DEVOID OF A NURTURING SPIRIT – EVEN A KINDLY FACIAL EXPRESSION. A STONE-FACED, UNCARING, “BIG DEAL” WHO I DISCARDED = LACK OF HUMANITY IS CRUCIAL WHEN DEALING WITH PATIENTS SUFFERING GREATLY WITH LIFE-THREATENING AILMENTS.
I would prefer to be treated by a truck driver, if he /she showed at least some compassion towards those who face an unpleasant, and possibly, a short and struggling future.
Interesting article, and not surprising. Women generally (but not always) have a greater capacity for empathy. I have only ever had one male Dr, preferring female physicians, but he had an unusual ability (for a man) to communicate care and concern.
Female clinicians are led more by the heart than by the head. Big-headedness is more evident in all males, especially successful professionals.
Although it may sound stereotypical, my experience causes me to agree with your assessment.
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