Where have all the male OB/GYNs gone?

Men have a more difficult road to pave when it comes to choosing the specialty of obstetrics and gynecology.

Has the increase of female obstetricians made it more difficult for male OB/GYNs to practice?
Has the increase of female obstetricians made it more difficult for male OB/GYNs to practice?

 A few weeks ago, I had a third-year medical student shadowing me in the office. While it is not unusual for me to work with student midwives, I rarely work with medical students in the office setting. On this particular day, the medical student was male.

It is our usual office protocol for the medical assistants to get verbal patient consent for student observation and participation. When I'm working with a female student midwife, it is uncommon for patients to decline student presence. I was interested to see the patient response to a male student. Only about a quarter of my patients allowed the male medical student into the room, and they were all over the age of 50.

Over the past 20 years, there has been an influx of female OB/GYN providers. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2013 there were 1,024 females applicants to OB/GYN residency programs, compared to just 213 male applicants. So, where have all the male OB/GYNs gone?

Historically, women were the original obstetrical-care providers. The word obstetrix is Latin for midwife. It wasn't until the 16th century that men began attending births. By the 20th century, males overwhelmingly outnumbered females in the OB/GYN specialty.

Personally, all except one of my male colleagues are aged 50 years and older and moving toward retirement. Our residency program has graduated one male in the six years I've been a midwife.

It isn't surprising to me that the older patients were comfortable with a male medical student since most of them probably had a male OB/GYN during their younger years. Because more women were entering the medical field, patients were becoming more selective consumers. I think many women decided they were more comfortable seeing a female provider for their obstetrical and gynecological needs, and supply finally met demand.

In the field of midwifery, females have always dominated. In 2012 in the US, only 2% of midwives were male. I would love to see more men enter my profession, just as I would like to an increase in male OB/GYN residents. I don't think that being female automatically makes one more skilled at providing care for women.

I do believe that in today's world, men have a more difficult road to pave when it comes to choosing the specialty of obstetrics and gynecology. Younger women are more inclined to want a female provider, therefore men will likely have to work harder to gain trust and establish a reputation if they want to succeed in women's health care.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.

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