A male gynaecologist in a woman’s world

Historically, the obstetrician/gynaecologist practice has been dominated by men, but the tide is changing.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Historically, the obstetrician/gynaecologist practice has been dominated by men.
  • In the 1980s and 90s, male gynaecologists were about 80 per cent, a thing that is rapidly changing with women gradually catching up. 
  • Due to cultural or religious reasons, some women may prefer female gynaecologists. 

“As a woman, the gender of my gynaecologist doesn’t really matter; I’m comfortable with either. However, my mother, while delivering my last born brother had a male gynaecologist. She nicknamed my brother ‘Don’ after the doctor’s name. It is only years later that I understood why - he had been very gentle and comforting when she was in a lot of pain. So much that she nicknamed my brother by his name,” Cecilia Karungu, an online content creator, tells The Voice.

Historically, the obstetrician/gynaecologist (obs/gyn) practice has been dominated by men. A 2017 study from Stanford researchers found that female obs/gyns were 47 per cent less likely to receive top patient satisfaction scores than their male counterparts.

Dr Wanyoike Gichuhi who has practiced obs/gyn for the last 25 years, says the number of male students pursuing this line of medicine has always been higher, but the trend is changing.

In the 1980s and 90s, male gynaecologists were about 80 per cent, a thing that is rapidly changing with women gradually catching up. He notes that even though gender parity in this field has not been achieved, the numbers now are not badly off compared to the past. Men still lead at about 60 per cent of the total number of gynaecologists in the country. He attributes the trend to the robust campaign to promote girl child education.

Male gynaecologists are more understanding, show empathy and generally give a listening ear, that is the assumption that endears more women to seek our services, says Dr Kigen Bartilol, an obstetrics/gynaecologist.

Dr Kigen Bartilol at his clinic in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

But why do most women prefer male gynaecologists? This question sparked a debate on social media a few months ago, attracting heated reactions from women and men alike.

“I want a gynae like the one who took care of my mum; so I go for the men,” says Ms Karungu.

Gladys Chania, a psychologist also says she prefers male gynaecologists, noting that women tend to be more comfortable and content with the other gender.

Ms Chania adds that many women find it difficult to open up on personal health issues to other women.

“The male gynaecologists are warm and thorough in their work. They also seem keen and eager to learn more through their intensive examinations unlike their female counterparts who may seem imposing when dealing with patients of their gender,” she notes.

At Dr Kigen’s clinic located at the NHIF Building, Nairobi, expectant and non-expectant women are waiting patiently for their turn to see him.  He has been a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist since 2003 and has attended to an ever-growing number of female patients who visit his clinic for reproductive health treatment, diagnosis and counselling, over the years.

On why more women prefer male gynaecologists, he pegs his response on a historical view.

 “Several years back, the medical field had a reputable number of women practicing obstetrics/gynaecology but with time, most of them have branched off into research and teaching, leaving the practicing field to their male counterparts,” he says adding that this is by virtue of the nature of the job where one can be called to attend to emergencies in the wee hours of the night.

“And because they are engaged in child rearing, it became a headache and most of them opted to branch off,” says 52-year-old Dr Kigen, who is also a Senior Assistant Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Health.

He, however, notes that even though more men are practicing, over time the field is becoming gender-balanced because female practitioners have learnt how to balance work and family.  Ordinarily, he says, women tend to lean towards consulting male gynaecologists as they find it easy to confide in them than female.

A few kilometres away at the Upper Hill Medical Centre, we meet Dr Wanyoike Gichuhi who has been practicing obstetrics\gynaecology for the last 25 years.

He says he chose the field because he had an interest in infertility and surgery. He explains that obstetrics involves a branch of medicine that deals with the care of women and their offspring during pregnancy, childbirth, and the post-natal period while gynaecology is the practice dealing with the health of the female reproductive system, which also forms part of his day-to-day activities.

Dr Wanyoike, who is married to a fellow doctor, has special training in infertility from the University of Leeds UK where he obtained his Masters and a diploma from the University of Kiel, Germany. His training on infertility has made him one of the few invitro fertilisation (IVF) specialists in the country, helping childless women become mothers.

Dr Wanyoike Gichuhi at his Upper Hill Medical Centre clinic in Nairobi. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

He says taking an infertile mother or couple through the journey from conception, antenatal to childbirth is the most satisfying accomplishment in his career.

“Just seeing a couple that had infertility issues hold a baby in their hands with joy is a very fulfilling moment for me,” he says.

Dr Wanyoike, however, debunks the notion that more women prefer male gynaecologists.

“I think the distribution is the same and the attention by the doctor from one patient to the other varies from an individual to the other. In my career, I have not seen bias by women towards male gynaecologists. It is only that by the sheer numbers, male gynaecologists are more thus, get the bigger share,” he says.

He notes that due to cultural or religious reasons, some women may prefer female gynaecologists. On the matter of male gynaecologists being gentler with their patients, the IVF specialist who is also a lecturer at the University of Nairobi Obstetrics And Gynaecology Department, says this is based on perception. He nevertheless adds that female gynaecologists are also very tender and good at their job.

Contrary to what many may assume, Dr Wanyoike says his wife is comfortable with his profession and understands the demands that come with it.

Eva Komba, the Gender Lead at the SDG Kenya Forum, says she has two male gynaecologists who she consults regularly.

“I find male gynaecologists very gentle and they pay attention to detail. They also offer additional support like counselling beyond the usual services,” she says.

Ms Komba, who is also a gender and governance expert, tells The Voice that she once tried a female gynaecologist but the experience was not pleasant.

“Her services were costly and she was also busy, especially whenever I needed her. When it came to examining me, I felt like she did not pay much attention,” she adds.

Dr Jean Kagia, a gynaecologist who has practiced for 39 years says the branch of medicine is neither a man’s or woman’s preserve. For her it is all about the men and women responding to their call to become gynaecologists as the work is not only delicate but emotionally straining. She says sometimes one is required to be alert 24 hours.

“Gynaecology is carried out by doctors not by men or women. And both men and women do the work very well. The point is, do they have the skills to do the work and are they able to balance it with their family life?” she says.

Our engagement with readers show that more women are comfortable being examined by male gynaecologists.

However, older women seem to prefer older gynaecologists as they argue it is against the African culture for a young man who qualifies to be their son, to see their nakedness.

But Susan Njau, who is in her 20s is of a contrary opinion. She consults a female gynaecologist and would never consider a male one.

“I cannot imagine a male doctor seeing my nakedness. It will be hard for me to allow another man who is not my husband or boyfriend, to see me naked. For me, it will always be a female gynaecologist anytime,” she says.

Adonija Kimanzi a counsellor, says women consulting male gynaecologists is not a big deal because they do so for professional services. He adds that he has no issue with his wife seeing a male gynaecologist.

“I don’t find it abnormal for my wife to see a male gynaecologist if she’s comfortable with it. If he is competent and ethical, then that’s fine,” he says.

Mr Kimanzi says the only thing that can discourage a woman from seeing a male gynaecologist is if she experienced sexual assault or violence like rape in her past life. He notes that adolescent or young girls may find it unsettling visiting male gynaecologists compared to mature and older women.

In Dr Kigen’s view, some women are comfortable with male gynaecologists due to religious or cultural factors thus female gynaecologists become instrumental in bridging this gap.

“You find some men saying ‘I cannot allow a male gynaecologist to attend to my wife’. Muslims also tend to prefer female gynaecologists because of their religious beliefs,” says Dr Kigen.

Yet, Clarice Awino, a 30-year-old banker, swears by male gynaecologists.

“I started with a male gynaecologist and in all honesty will stick with one my entire life. Was telling my husband that I wish he was also practicing as a general practitioner. His gentleness, attention to small details and level of professionalism do not disappoint. Moreover, I’m naturally a difficult person and he has a gentle way of explaining to me why certain things have to be done. Definitely males are my first choice,” says the mother of two.

As some women swear by male gynaecologist, we ask Dr Kigen what his wife thinks of his profession.

“When I started my practice, my wife was uncomfortable with this guy who has to leave the house at 2am to attend to an emergency. Or cancelling travel plans at the eleventh hour because I have been held up by a client. Over time, however, she has learnt to adjust and understand it is work, it’s a profession,” he says.

On what inspired him to pursue a profession where he has worked for the last 18 years, he gives a witty response: “After nine months, we are able to see results!” he says with a cheeky smile.

Dr Kigen says he gets fulfilment in seeing a happy mother and healthy baby every time he walks with an expectant woman during her pregnancy journey. 

This line of medicine is faced with challenges too. Dr Wanyoike says losing a patient due to complications during delivery is one of the most depressing moments.

Similar sentiments are expressed by Dr Kigen to whom the loss of a mother, especially through post-partum haemorrhage (where a mother experiences excessive bleeding after delivery resulting in death)

“It is one of the most difficult moment a doctor faces during his or her practice,” says the 52-year-old doctor.

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