Physical examinations - can I ask for the gender of my doctor?
Publish Date: 25/10/2013
Kathy McGuirk, GP Project Manager from Pride in Practice talks about the importance of giving patients choice in the gender of their doctor when it comes to physical examinations.
"I have been contacted by three lesbians in the past few weeks regarding their experiences and preferences in GP practices when having physical examinations.
"I don’t think anyone enjoys have medical examinations whether it’s rectal investigations, breast examinations or anything that involves having your legs in stirrups! ‘Try to relax..’ it would probably be easier to relax if you were not semi naked and exposed, with a little paper towelling trying to cover your dignity. But physical examination are necessary and can be lifesaving.
"What I have found interesting is some patients’ experience of trying to make the experience a little more comfortable, by asking for a particular gender of doctor to conduct the examination.
"Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the majority of cases a female doctor will conduct physical examinations of female patients and male doctors conduct physical examinations of male patients.
"I have had it reported from clinicians that having a same gendered doctors perform examinations is common place, as a way of making the experience non-sexual …but what about if you associate sexual experience, with members of the same gender?
"One quote I feel sums it up from a lesbian patient ‘the only woman I want touch my breasts is my wife!’.
"This will not be the case for everyone, many people regardless of sexual orientation, will prefer examinations done by a member of the same gender, but individual preference is very important.
"I have had reports of patients not wanting to ask for an opposite gendered doctor but they feel uncomfortable asking. Fear of people’s reaction to their request was a major issue and also not wanting to be labelled as a ‘difficult patient’.
"When the patient has requested a particular gender sometimes it was not possible to facilitate. I have heard that patients have been told that male doctors cannot perform cervical screens because they are not trained. I would recommend to practices to review their policy around training on such procedures, as it could massively improve some patients’ experience.
"I think the key point is that, even if a practice can’t meet the preferences of a patient but to provide the opportunity for preferences to be discussed.
"By asking a patient what gender of doctor or nurse they would prefer, and recognising there could be a preference, even if they can’t meet those preferences makes patients feel more considered.
"Pause for thought! If I am receiving lesbian and gay patients’ feedback on preference for an opposite gendered doctor to reduce the stress/embarrassment of the experience of physical examinations – could this suggest the some bi-sexual people find physical examinations even more stressful/ embarrassing than heterosexuals, gay or lesbian patients?"