Why do people become gynecologists?
May 5, 2010 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Why do people become gynecologists? I don't understand why gynecologists go into their profession. They look at women's vaginas all day. How do they explain that one to family and friends? Do they brag about it? Are they embarrassed? Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession, like a surgeon or a family doctor? Why would they specifically choose gynecology?
posted by abbat to Society & Culture (85 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Seriously? Perhaps they care about women's reproductive health?
posted by greta simone at 3:53 PM on May 5, 2010 [30 favorites]

Response by poster: I am serious.
posted by abbat at 3:54 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Because they are interested in the care of women, such as their reproductive health, prevention of STDs and horrible diseases like ovarian cancer? They want to bring babies into the world? They find the mechanics of the female reproductive system more interesting than other parts of the body?

Or yeah, they're all perverts. I'm sure that makes more sense.
posted by dayintoday at 3:56 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: question reworded and some comments removed - let's try again?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:08 PM on May 5, 2010

I think you're confused about why people become doctors. There are any number of reasons why people go into medicine, but I do not think which naked bits of people they get to look at usually factors into it much.

Also, read the comments section for this New York Times blog post. A commenter asked this same question and a number of doctors, male and female, answered.
posted by colfax at 4:12 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

a more respectable branch of their profession

Except to 12 year old boys, gynecology is completely respectable. The ob-gyns I've talked to have been incredibly proud of helping women with fertility, sexuality, and other issues. For a lot of women, the gynecologist is the only doctor they see routinely, so they catch a lot of general practice issues (eg depression) that most specialists never see.
posted by Forktine at 4:14 PM on May 5, 2010 [78 favorites]

I suspect that a lot of people who become gynecologists do so because they care about women's well-being. I also suspect that many women who become gynecologists have done so because they want other women to feel comfortable coming to a mechanic who owns her own car, so to speak.

Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession

There's nothing "not respectable" about saving women's lives.
posted by corey flood at 4:15 PM on May 5, 2010 [51 favorites]

Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession

It is possible that they don't think that taking care of the health of roughly half the human population is a disrespectful thing to do. Also, doctors are adults and therefore are not all like: "Vaginas!" but more: "hey look at how all these organs and stuff work together, this is pretty interesting."

What is is about female human bodies that you find embarrassing?
posted by frobozz at 4:15 PM on May 5, 2010 [16 favorites]

I often wondered this myself. I think there is a fascination with life and how it comes to be. I am not religious, but it is pretty miraculous. Plus, the whole system is very complicated, so probably very interesting. This is a very well respected branch of medicine.

I have had some major reproductive system problems, so I have dealt with a lot of ob/gyns. The ob/gyns I have asked, told me it is about life and helping women. These were all doctors that would perform abortions on demand. Some were very compassionate, some like car mechanics. But I never felt that any went into the field for prurient interests. And they don't necessary look at vaginas all day, although I am sure they see a lot of them.

I am sure some perverts go into the field, like pyromaniacs who go into fire fighting.
posted by fifilaru at 4:19 PM on May 5, 2010

Something to ask yourself. Do you feel the same way about proctologists? Dentists? Urologists? Podiatrists? Why or why not?
posted by Sophie1 at 4:19 PM on May 5, 2010 [12 favorites]

I think it's much the way that many doctors choose their specialty -- a combination of their latent interests and abilities and chance experiences that make them favor one in particular.

From the few conversations I've had with OBGYNS -- all male, for what that's worth -- I gathered that they delivered some babies when they were in medical school or in residency and just liked the experience.

Some economic factors apply too in choosing a speciality, but I don't think they favor OBGYNs.

As for what OBGYNs tell people, they tell them they are OBGYNs or whatever sub-specialty they have. Mature adults don't think it's anything to giggle about -- women's reproductive health is serious business.

This all applies to your questions about proctologists and urologists, by the way.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 4:19 PM on May 5, 2010

Except to 12 year old boys, gynecology is completely respectable.

This, exactly. I'm trying to think of a way to say this that won't come across as harsh, but it's difficult: thinking it's not respectable, or somehow embarrassing or weird, to look at women's vaginas, especially in a medical context, is extremely immature.

greta simone had it straight out of the box: they care about women's reproductive health. Why do you feel that's not worth caring for?
posted by Nattie at 4:21 PM on May 5, 2010 [23 favorites]

For what it's worth, some internists do pap smears nearly half of the day: a young woman I know is an internist, and much of her panel is female, and so some days 75% of her encounters will be for pap smears.
posted by teragram at 4:21 PM on May 5, 2010

I met a woman once whose husband was working on becoming an OGBYN, and I asked her what attracted him to that field. She said that it's a field where there's a lot of variety in your regular tasks, and you're generally not dealing with dying people, which made a lot of sense to me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:22 PM on May 5, 2010 [10 favorites]

gynecology is pretty damn respectable. women's reproductive health is important to, oh, i don't know, the propagation of our species? who do you think your mother went to see when she was pregnant with you?
posted by raw sugar at 4:22 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - folks if you do not like this question, go to metatalk or have a muffin, calling people jerks is bad for the site and bad for karma and is harshing my very nice evening.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:24 PM on May 5, 2010 [18 favorites]

For many of the same reasons people become dentists.

You might think vaginas and mouths are grody for whatever reason, but not all of us do, and imagine how much grodier you'd find them if there weren't professionals interested in their health and care.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:24 PM on May 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

This question reminds me of the Seinfeld where Jerry was like "dermatologists suck, what do they do," and the patient comes up to the derm-in-question and thanks them profusely for saving them from skin cancer and Jerry feels terrible afterwards. So I'm giving the OP the benefit of sheer ignorance.

A vagina is not dirty or shameful, nor is the practice of ensuring that they and their owners are healthy, happy, and protected. The mouth has more germs and bacteria and potent smells than the vagina.

Gynos get to provide women with birth control as well as help bring babies into the world, and they get to help women feel better about their bodies, and they fix stuff that causes shame, pain, and embarrassment that comes from people like you who vocalize their caveman beliefs that a vagina is 'less respectable' than an ear, the skin, the lungs, the eye, or other body parts that haven't been stigmatized by society. How awesome and rewarding is that?
posted by curiositykilledthelemur at 4:24 PM on May 5, 2010 [17 favorites]

My best friend is an OB/GYN, has been for 30 years or more.. He's also the clinical head (I'm not sure that's the right term) of a major hospital on the west coast.

He went into the profession because he saw it as an opportunity to lend his intelligence and skills to a very important branch of medicine, because he loves people, because he's a compassionate individual.

Let me add that he also considers his profession as being 'respectable'...
posted by HuronBob at 4:24 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe they want to help women stay healthy. Maybe they know someone who got pregnant as a young teen and want to help other girls avoid this. Maybe they had really debilitating menstrual cramps and want to help figure out why girls and women suffer. Who knows? Maybe they just saw it as a good career move. As for their possible embarrassment about the shameful and ridiculous notion that they Stare into Vaginas All Day, I would imagine that since most doctors (Doogie Houser excepted) are older than sixteen, this isn't much of an issue.

I'm teasing you a bit, but I get that your question is genuine. It just sounds like you're on the young side.
posted by cymru_j at 4:25 PM on May 5, 2010

FWIW, in context, looking at all those ladybits is probably the equivalent of looking at a bowl of fruit or a bookcase or something. Back when I was in artschool and we drew naked people, after the initial small shock of it all, it just seemed...normal.

I did chuckle one day...a model, wearing a robe, was running to class when her robe flapped and a breast was exposed. People were scandalized. And yet these were the very same folks that looked at these boobs every day in class and yawned.

I would expect that in the context of healthcare, a vagina is simply a body part, like a knee or a nose or a toenail.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:25 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think the asker is a jerk. I think this is a legitimate question. I know a lot of men who ask this. There is still a "dark" mystery about female reproduction and vaginas specifically. When a person enters my doctor's exam room the first thing they see is a huge color diagram of a vagina with all the parts labeled, plus a bunch of anatomical models. She does this to demystify the whole thing. Vagainas are pretty awesome.
posted by fifilaru at 4:26 PM on May 5, 2010

My ob/gyn seemed to really enjoy delivering babies. Now he's shifting his practice to focus on surgery; when I had a consult with him last week he seemed really excited about advances in surgical techniques (laproscopy, robotic surgery) both because he seemed geeked by the technology and because it leads to faster recovery times for women.
posted by not that girl at 4:29 PM on May 5, 2010

Bill Cosby played Dr. Cliff Huxtable, an OBGYN, on The Cosby Show. It doesn't get much more wholesome and respectable than that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:34 PM on May 5, 2010 [13 favorites]

ThePinkSuperhero's comment is right on the money. A friend of mine, during the clinical part of medical school, did rotations in internal medicine, emergency medicine and oncology, then did a rotation in obstetrics and gynecology. "It's wonderful taking care of healthy people."

A significant part of a surgeon's practice is in removing hemorrhoids. Which is more or less respectable? It is all needed by the patients.
posted by megatherium at 4:36 PM on May 5, 2010

Women's undercarriages are so interesting and convoluted and, yes, awesome, that I imagine specializing in gynecology is really interesting. I've only encountered a couple of male ob/gyns throughout my life, but I never got the "Ooh, naked ladeez all day, COOL" vibe from them.

I wonder whether you're coming at this from a point of view of being male and thinking that women have some sort of mysterious territory in their pants (vagina dentata? blood? babies?) and finding that icky. Or maybe someone you know wants to be a gynecologist, and something about that squicks you out.
posted by vickyverky at 4:37 PM on May 5, 2010

My OB/GYN saved my life. All the "female doctors' I've had have been very respectful and not at all 'perverted'. I honestly don't think there could be a more respectable branch of medicine. (Except maybe Pediatric Oncologists.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:39 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

"More respectable?"

What's more respectable than choosing a profession - like gynecology - which requires years of training and may not be the most profitable, but which helps inform people about basic health issues (especially many which people have a hard time discussing) and has to do with some of the most powerful moments - puberty, sexual activity, childbirth and parenting - in a person's life?

I have a few gynecologists in my extended family. They love their profession. It's probably what I would have gone into myself, if I hadn't had to abandon medical studies due to war (and later, blood fatigue.) Frankly, if you're asking this question in the first place, I suspect all the opinions in the world won't help you understand it. But if I were a gynecologist, I'd certainly brag about it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:39 PM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

abbat, is english your first language? Some of the ire that you seem to have raised is likely due to your phrasing of the question - particular referring to gynecology as less respectable than other types of medicine.

I would imagine that gynecologists do take a bit of ribbing from certain people about their profession (I'm thinking distant family, new acquaintances). They likely pretty quickly come up with their coping strategy/comebacks for that sort of thing.
posted by davey_darling at 4:39 PM on May 5, 2010

Maybe they like women and think it's an interesting system.

That would be my guess. And, lots of interesting problems and challenges from serious illness to minor illnesses, and hormones and childbearing.

I imagine other branches of medicine are less interesting simply by virtue of having simpler systems. I'm not going to hate on any of those here, though. I'm sure there's a doctor out there waiting to defend the dark and thrilling mysteries of earlobes or something.

As far as being embarrassed about it, I don't think they are. Most people are pretty casual about gynecologists. You're supposed to go pretty routinely so it's not like some arcane ritual practiced at midnight with a bunch of people wearing red robes and dancing around a fire. It's pretty mundane.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:42 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

How do they explain that one to family and friends?
Half of those family and friends HAVE a gynecologist or know someone who does, so I don't think it needs a lot of explaining or blushing for most people.
posted by amethysts at 4:42 PM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have lots of close, gay friends and one night, almost 4 years ago, I grabbed one of those friends literally off of the dance floor at the gay club during a t-dance. He was shirtless and HOT (!!!) and a well respected OB in the area. We had a 20 minute conversation about where I should go in Atlanta for fertility treatment, we had decided to try for child number 2 and I had no idea where to begin. He gave me great advice, he is still a good friend and I completely love and respect him for his concern over Women's health. He and his partner have a beautiful baby girl, are trying to adopt baby number two and the thought of calling this amazing human being weird because if his calling just disgusts me. My baby Wyatt turned 3 last Saturday and even though Dr. Michael wasn't MY OB/Gyn, he is a close friend who made sure that I was going to the right people. I will always love him for that.
posted by pearlybob at 4:44 PM on May 5, 2010

In fairness, gynecologists can also look at men's vaginas if they want to.

There isn't anything embarassing about practicing medicine, nor about female genitalia, so maybe I just don't understand the question. Gyncecologists, like other doctors, are drawn to their area of specialty because they find it interesting, or work where their aptitude and skills may be particularly well-suited. Especially as discussion and study of women's sexuality has expanded and developed in the past few years, gynecology might be a particularly interesting field for people interested in research, feminist doctors, or people who think that being ashamed of bodies is contrary to good health.
posted by verbyournouns at 4:45 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I used to wonder this kind of thing but about many types of doctors. An ear, nose and throat specialist doesn't exactly have a glamorous job on a day to day level: poking around amongst dried balls of snot and I'm still surprised anyone goes into proctology.

I think the reason why gynaecology is interesting from a doctor's point of view is because women's bodies change quite dramatically with time. Men's bodies age obviously, but in a general sense they just deteriorate. Woman's bodies change in more dramatic ways as they near and pass through menopause.
posted by selton at 4:46 PM on May 5, 2010

From a purely practical job satisfaction perspective-

- money and patient base is steady and good; most young women need an annual checkup and birth control counseling/Rx; pregnant women need prenatal care. women are willing to pay more or pay out of pocket for these essential services if you're top of your specialty

- hours are regular and predictable unless you deliver babies all the time, and even for those OBs, it's not as bad as being a trauma surgeon

- it's not as "hands on" all the time as general medicine or peds; yes, you look at vaginas a few times a day, but the female gynecologists I've known come to the office in cute little dresses and heels under their white coats because they know they probably aren't going to have blood or vomit on their good shoes in the course of a routine appointment.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:52 PM on May 5, 2010

An old friend of mine is a GP, but had toyed with the idea of being a gynecologist. In fact, she studied under a doctor who was famous for being one of the few doctors who would perform abortions.

Why did she focus on gynecology? Because she was awesome. She was a fierce, rebellious person who hated small-minded a-holes who thought of girl parts as something gross. She thought of being a gyne as being totally punk rock, as far as doctoring was concerned and that it was fairly primitive as far as the branches of medicine were concerned. She was sad that women had such low self esteems and discomfort with their own bodies and she wanted to change attitudes about being a woman by talking frankly and openly about the woman stuff.

However, her rebelliousness and world changing attitude saw a bigger opportunity in being a GP and going to an underserved community. So she did that. And at least her community has someone who safely knows how to perform abortions.

On a semi-related note, my dad was a photographer for "Hustler." Guys used to tell him he had the best job ever. His response was always, "It's like being a gynecologist. After the first week, you might as well be staring at a car engine or a plate of roast beef. All work is work."
posted by Gucky at 4:57 PM on May 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

Is this question one in a series?

The dentists and gynecologists I've known have been willing to work hard in professions they enjoyed and were well paid for their work.
posted by pinky at 5:02 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

There is still a "dark" mystery about female reproduction and vaginas specifically.

Until the end of the eighteenth century, anatomical texts would put the stuff about "girlie bits" in an appendix. Midwifery was not considered part of medical practice, and it took the work of Smellie and Hunter (whose methods have recently come under scrutiny) to make it so.

As far as "respectability" is concerned, it's worth remembering that surgeons were long considered much less respectable than doctors -- they were barbers, and their work was considered akin to live butchery.
posted by holgate at 5:07 PM on May 5, 2010

My mother-in-law is a nurse in labor & delivery at one of the local hospitals, and she very much prefers it to other types of nursing because around 90% of the time, the women she is working with are in the hospital for a happy event, not because of illness or pending death. She told me that shortly out of nursing school (almost 35 years ago), she worked in a non-L&D part of the hospital and the death and pain and unhappiness was overwhelming. She really enjoys helping women get their babies into the world.

I imagine there are doctors who chose their profession for similar reasons.
posted by chiababe at 5:08 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm still surprised anyone goes into proctology.

And this is exactly why they make a lot of money.
posted by limeonaire at 5:15 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

My OB/GYN is a personal friend and a big part of our community. I found my babysitter through her. She saved the life of another friend of mine. She's literally the poster child for the department she heads at the hospital; a gorgeous full-length poster of her featured on billboards and bus shelters around town. She's a rock star.

As for looking at vaginas all day, I'll always have a soft spot for another nurse-practitioner who did a pap smear for me and said very matter-of-factly: "You look very healthy. And beautiful. Like a flower."
posted by rdc at 5:25 PM on May 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

Different people think differently. It might amuse you to know that my gynecologist recently confided in me that eyes gross him out. It takes all types, right?
posted by Ys at 5:36 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Man, I can't really imagine a COOLER branch of medicine to go into, especially ob/gyn (rather than just straight gyn), where you see your patients so frequently during the pregnancy that you have a real relationship with them, you get to help families BECOME families and go through one of the most profound experiences of their lives, and at the end, YOU GET TO DELIVER A FREAKIN' BABY!

I think pediatrics would also be pretty cool, for many of the same reasons -- mostly well visits or minor illnesses, lots of visits so developing a relationship not just with the child but with the whole family (and multiple children!).

I'm sort-of tempted to tell my awesome ob/gyn that his profession isn't respectable. I think he'd crack up.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:41 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: in case you missed it, this question is in metatalk, please take complaints and insults there, not here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:52 PM on May 5, 2010

You do realize that gynecology is often a surgical specialty? You know, one that involves, say, surgery? (Think hysterectomies, removal of endometriosis, tubal ligation, treatment of gynecological cancer, treatment of fibroids, etc.) And as other people are saying, it's not just about the particular organ or body cavity you specialize in; it's about the patients, and how you interact with and help them, and whether you enjoy that or not.

One of my most favourite-ever profs in medical school is a gynecological oncologist. This man knows how to care for and about patients, and is one of the most articular teachers I've ever heard.
posted by greatgefilte at 6:03 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

They look at women's vaginas all day.

That's just what gynecologists appear to be doing, to the untrained observer. Obviously there's more behind it. In the end, what matters is that it is a rewarding job—either interpersonally, or purely monetarily, or both. And that is enough.
posted by polymodus at 6:11 PM on May 5, 2010

If you'd like some reading from a first person perspective, there's an OB who blogs here and has discussed why she chose that specialty.

From this post: "For me, it was Women's Health. I loved reading about it. I enjoyed the clinics. I was intrigued with the GYN surgeries, and, of course, delivering babies was the biggest rush in the world. I remember vehemently wishing that I didn't love it. I looked at the lifestyle and was scared to death. But, I knew, just knew, that being an Ob/Gyn was what I was meant to do."
posted by chiababe at 6:24 PM on May 5, 2010

In fairness, gynecologists can also look at men's vaginas if they want to.

Men do not have vaginas. Both men and women have genitalia, but a vagina is unique to women.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:25 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

You've asked two questions. One is why someone would become a gynecologist. That has been answered well, above (helping women, fascination with birth process, money, etc.)

The other question is...

How do they explain that one to family and friends? Do they brag about it? Are they embarrassed? Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession...

Actually, that's several questions, but they all have to do with how a gynecologist deals with people's opinions of him. Personally, I don't think gynecologists are strange, perverted or embarrassing, and I don't know anyone who does, but I don't want to let my personal values cloud my answer.

So let's say we're talking about a sewer worker. Granted, sewer workers do an important job, but it's a job that many of us find disgusting. So how do they explain what they do to friends and family?

Since you asked that question (about gynecologists, not sewer workers, but the question is the same), I assume that (a) the opinions your friends and family have about your career matters deeply to you and (b) your friends and family tend to voice opinions about careers.

One answer to your question is that (a) and (b) do not apply to everyone. For instance, they don't apply to me. Given the background you seem to have, this may be surprising to you, but I've never heard a single person in my family -- nor any of my friends -- badmouth someone because of what they do for a living. My guess is, if I chose to be a mass murderer, I would get some flak. But as long as what I choose to do doesn't hurt anybody, the folks I know won't give me shit about it.

Being a sewer worker (or a gynecologist) doesn't hurt anybody. One might say it HELPS people. And I guess I'm just lucky enough to be around people who aren't judgmental about personal choices that don't cause harm.

From your posting history, I'm guessing you're pretty young. (Sorry if I've gotten that wrong.) The younger people are, the more they tend to care about "what other people think." I'm in my 40s, and I'll tell you this: though none of my friends would care if I chose to be a sewer worker, if one of them did, fuck him. If he let me know in any way that he looked down on me because of what I chose to do, he wouldn't be my friend any more. And the same goes for family. If my dad or mom or uncle belittled me for my choice of career, I would cut them off. The end.

-- What do you do for a living?
-- I'm a sewer worker.
-- Really? How can you live with yourself?

End of friendship. THAT'S how I'd deal with it. In my universe, that's not acceptable behavior between friends or family members.

So, if I was a gynecologist (or sewer worker), how would I explain it to family and friends? I'd say, "Hi family and friends, I'm a gynecologist (or sewer worker)."

Would I brag about it? No. Because I'm a grownup and I don't brag about what I do for a living. I just go to work, do my job, and then I go home. And that would be true no matter what I did.

Would I be embarrassed? No. Again, I don't personally think being a gynecologist is a shameful thing, but even if I did think there was something gross about it, I still wouldn't be embarrassed, because my choice of a career doesn't define me, and if someone else thinks it does, hurrah for them.

Why wouldn't I go into a more respectable branch of their profession? Because I don't care about respectable branches. I care about doing work that interests me.

You know what would cause me shame? If I really WANTED to be a gynecologist (or sewer worker or whatever), but I chose a more "respectable branch" because I was worried about what people would think. What a waste of my life! Not pursuing my passion because of "what people would think!" I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I was so weak willed.

Of course, some people aren't like me. Some people are embarrassed by what they do. Some people have asshole relatives and "friends" who judge them. How do they handle it? Presumably by being embarrassed or by quitting their jobs and pursuing different careers.
posted by grumblebee at 6:25 PM on May 5, 2010 [28 favorites]

My wife has described her gyno as having a fan club, he's just that popular and well liked by his patients, so I asked what was so good about him. She said he has a great bedside manner, well run office, good staff and just generally makes her feel cared for health wise.

All I did today was build some ads, do some publication design. Meanwhile a gynecologist helped several women feel as though their health matters and is important and does what they can to help them stay healthy, in fact that's all they does, day after day, year after year. That's a helluva lot more than just looking at vaginas.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

"In fairness, gynecologists can also look at men's vaginas if they want to.

Men do not have vaginas. Both men and women have genitalia, but a vagina is unique to women."

I was talking about trans men.
posted by verbyournouns at 6:41 PM on May 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

My brother is an OB, and I asked him why he chose this particular specialty. As I recall, he said that he was initially interested in pediatrics, but changed his mind because he thought that working as an OB would insure the child's health further up the line -- when its mother was pregnant. I'm sure there are other reasons, but that's the one I remember.
posted by sdn at 6:42 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was talking about trans men.

Ah. My apologies.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:43 PM on May 5, 2010

I got to talking with an OB/GYN at the bar once and, you know, I had to ask, just like I woulda hadda ask if he was a podiatrist or neurosurgeon or whatever.

The hospital he was doing his rotations in, there was a long waiting list for most of the prestigious specializations, or whatever—I don't know much about medical school, so forgive me if my jargon's off—so he sees that it's easy to get assigned to OB/GYN and thinks, "What the hell?" He likes it OK, he's good at it, and he said that it's something that people are always gonna need.

Then he looks at me and says, "It sure beats proctology. I don't know how anyone can do that."
posted by klangklangston at 6:43 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think any doctor has to worry (or should have to) about being "respectable"--even proctologists. If something's wrong with your large intestine, you are in a world of hurt, and you are damned grateful to have someone around to help.

No part of the human body is disreputable or shameful. It's an amazing organism. In advanced stages of illness or injury, yeah, I'm sure it does challenge a doctor's squeamishness occasionally, regardless of profession. Is a pus-filled sinus cavity less disgusting than genitals with STDs? Infection is infection. Tissues are tissues.

Why a doctor chooses one specialty over another is, as others have pointed out, dependent on what body system they find most interesting (which is probably connected at least in part to what teachers/experiences they've had in med school), economics, and what kind of workday they want to have. Dermatologists don't get called at 3am much, but they don't save lives in the ICU very often either.
posted by emjaybee at 6:54 PM on May 5, 2010

Something to ask yourself. Do you feel the same way about ... Dentists?

Yes, the OP asked the same question about dentists, and about criminal defense attorneys. Apparently, he's curious about what motivates people to go into certain lines of work that he has a hard time imagining going into. Just because there's a good explanation doesn't mean it's unfathomable that the OP would be curious.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:57 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's an assumption in this question that vaginas are bad and sexual and embarrassing. They're not inherently any of those things. They can be any of those things; ask any owner who's had a health problem with hers and the words "bad" or "embarrassing" might come up, but if that's her default opinion, that's a personal problem. Do gynecologists, in their non-office lives, occasionally deal with people who get weird about what they do? Sure, because people project their own issues on other people all the time, and there's probably not a medical field on the planet that doesn't set off somebody's own personal internal alarm. There's millions of people walking around out there who get the shudders at the thought of touching an eye, that must be hell on eye-related medical professionals.

Maybe there's some questions you should ask yourself here. For example, obstetricians? Spend lots of time on a lady's business end, and do you think that's shameful or embarrassing?

But giving you the benefit of the doubt, if the question you're asking is "don't those professionals take a lot of shit for what they do?" There's probably very often That One Guy at a party who's going to be a douchebag about it because he only thinks of vaginas as a playground, but That Guy could probably also be a jerk about gastro specialists, because ew, poop. But for anyone whose life has been touched by, just for starters: cervical/ovarian/breast cancer, reproductive issues, chronic infections, hormonal imbalances, or excruciating menstrual pain, it's not funny.

And a parting bit of perspective: for a lot of women, our GYN or OB/GYN is our primary care physician either implicitly or explicitly. A good percentage of the serious scary shit that happens to us is probably going to at least initially be dealt with by one. That's often where we go for our bloodwork, breast exams, cervical cancer checks, referrals to cardiac or endocrinological specialists. Many of us may not see a general practitioner for years on end, because we're in there roughly yearly for one reason or another anyway. Gynecologists save a lot of women's lives. Without buying specialized equipment, I can't see my own cervix and would likely not be able to tell if something was wrong with it, which statistically is more likely to kill me than my feet or my eyes.

If you mature beyond the attitude that vaginas are, you know, just for someone else's use, it is fairly easy to see why someone would specialize in gynecology.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:09 PM on May 5, 2010 [12 favorites]

You know what would cause me shame? If I really WANTED to be a gynecologist (or sewer worker or whatever), but I chose a more "respectable branch" because I was worried about what people would think. What a waste of my life! Not pursuing my passion because of "what people would think!" I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I was so weak willed.

Exactly! You're cool Grumblebee.
posted by Neekee at 7:09 PM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

What a silly question. Can you imagine how cool it is to bring babies into the world almost every day? If you were asking why someone wants to be a proctologist I guess I could understand the question. Even then, they make gobs of money from relatively easy procedures which involve staring up your rear end. They make you go through a relatively painful cleaning procedure first though. Also, they save a lot of lives. You can go on and on about why or why not some practice of medicine is gross or not, but thank god we have people who do it and do it well to keep us all well.

Oh, and Jess has just earned her keep a hundredfold in this thread alone. She has a tough job and she does it very, very well. Kudos.
posted by caddis at 7:27 PM on May 5, 2010

I had once asked why men went into gynecology, and my relative said that it was because it included surgical work.
posted by anniecat at 7:30 PM on May 5, 2010

I just told my 16- and 14-year-old sons that this question was on the green. Both of them said "no of course they're not perverts." Gynecologists go into that specialty for the same reason doctors go into other specialties: for the money, to help people, because they feel strongly about women's health in particular, because as long as they're not doing obstetrics they can make their own schedule, because the women in their family have a history of gynecological issues, because they feel strongly about abortion one way or the other....

And as someone with a vagina who has been treated by gynecologists for three decades, I resent the statement that there is something less "respectable" about that specialty than others.
posted by headnsouth at 7:36 PM on May 5, 2010

Once you get into any internal medicine it is all disgusting. Maybe to you, vaginas seem disgusting on some level but how about a diseased lung or any diseased organ? How about gushing blood or pounds of body fat or tumors or rotting tissue? I respect doctors for all the disgusting things they must see on a daily basis. Sex organs are the least gross things a doctor would encounter even if they had a disorder that made them see these organs as disgusting. I could not do it.
posted by JJ86 at 7:43 PM on May 5, 2010

Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession?

They ARE in a respectable and important branch of their profession.

I can only hope that these questions comes from a place of youth and inexperience... it scares me to think there might be adults who think that way.
posted by foobario at 7:52 PM on May 5, 2010

How do they explain that one to family and friends?

"How was my day? Quite busy thanks for asking.. I cured two early cancers that I caught last week, helped control a woman's gestational diabetes, saw a few other patients, then got called into the OR to help save both a delivering mother and her baby from what might otherwise have been death. That was just my afternoon. Are you still staying in uncle Smitty's basement?"
posted by drpynchon at 8:03 PM on May 5, 2010 [17 favorites]

Mod note: if you must make an insulting comment, go to metatalk and do it please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:29 PM on May 5, 2010

Here are my two cents as an everyday feminist (and no I'm not an activist, I just live my life as your average woman.) It took many years of undoing the notion that my vagina was dirty, because of society's immature abuses of it. I finally found my vagina to be an 8th world wonder, especially for the fact it does so many amazing things that have everything and nothing to do with sex. So, how refreshing it is to have people who appreciate the health of my reproductive organs. If it were not for my ob/gyn, an important part of my health would have been shrouded in mystery, and I'd be suffering not just as a woman but as a human being. These specially trained doctors make me feel comfortable and glad to be a healthy person. I'd take it a step further. These are special people because it takes a special heart to make women feel validated in a patriarchal society.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:30 PM on May 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

My dad is an OBGYN. He knew he was going to be a physician. His reason for choosing gynecology: "it's the happy place in the hospital."

Most of the people he deals with are either healthy women in for a checkup, or very happy healthy new moms who are thrilled with the miracle of birth.

It does make your kids a little weird though-- strange dinner conversation.
posted by nat at 8:39 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

it's a good career move. most doctors will take a specialty. this one has high demand as half of the population sees them on a regular basis (as opposed to other specialties like ortho, where they only have customers if something is wrong). they will always be needed, they don't need to be attached to a large medical center, there are fewer malpractice suits, and within the field no one thinks less of it.
posted by chinabound at 8:40 PM on May 5, 2010

Initially, my father expected to go into Psychiatry. After doing his rotations (crazy people, dying people, babies!), he decided upon becoming an OB/GYN. He always told me "I'd rather help bring life into this world than ease it out."
posted by mmdei at 8:45 PM on May 5, 2010

MMY dad is also an OBGYN as was his dad. I believe he chose it for a number of reasons including familiarity/kinship (with his dad), an interest in reproductive medicine (he has done a lot of work with infertility and high risk pregnancy), and he has told me "the joy of helping new life into the world".

He also says (jokes?) that he truthfully can read Playboy for the articles ;)
I don't know why my own OBGYN chose his profession but I do know he is a gay man, FWIW.

I also know you are not the only person with this question. He - and his family members- get asked this a lot.
posted by pointystick at 8:45 PM on May 5, 2010

Men do not have vaginas. Both men and women have genitalia, but a vagina is unique to women.

Some men do, supersquirrel, and an ob who is good at working with such men is a rare gift. One reason I love mine so much and chose him to care for me during my pregnancy and deliver my second child is that he had been such a great gynecologist to my husband, very respectful, matter-of-fact, and willing to be educated.
posted by not that girl at 8:50 PM on May 5, 2010 [14 favorites]

How do they explain that one to family and friends? Do they brag about it? Are they embarrassed? Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession...

My dad's an OB-GYN. No, he doesn't brag about it, no, he's not embarrassed. His comments generally are things like "I delivered ten babies last weekend" or "I didn't sleep for eighty hours" or "I did a really interesting surgery this morning."

I'm not sure how he chose it, but I think he probably thought delivering babies would be a good thing to do and he wanted a surgical specialty (OB-GYNs do a lot of surgeries, but are also considered primary care physicians) and it was a good fit for him.
posted by jayder at 9:04 PM on May 5, 2010

When I was in high school (in the '90s), a classmate wanted to go to med school and study gynecology. My first thought was, why would you want to do that? (Which I didn't say out loud to her.) But I think it was pretty cool that that's what she decided, and that she was doing that despite these types of reactions that she would get. And really, what does it say about society that people (like yourself) have these knee-jerk reactions about having a job where you look at vaginas all day (which is such an inadequate description of the job)? I think it says that we are still very squeamish about vaginas, we don't understand the importance of vaginal health, what vaginal health even is, and we don't understand what professionals in this field do on a regular basis (but thanks to this thread, we now do). And really, gynecology is more than about vaginal health. So OP, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt and guessing this is where your questions are coming from, since they seem to weirding out/offending a lot of people.

So, to your questions/statements:
They look at women's vaginas all day
What they do is way, way more than that as this thread has shown.

How do they explain that one to family and friends?
Well, I think once you understand what gynecologists do, that's how they explain it.

Do they brag about it? Are they embarrassed? Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession
Why do you think they might brag about it? Why do you think they might be embarrassed? Why do you think gynecology is not respectable?

And more generally about your previous questions: I think it would help everyone a lot, when you are asking these questions, to say a bit about what you think and what your assumptions are about the topic. What is your understanding about the topic? How did you come to learn what you (think you) know about the topic? You say you were serious about this question, but why do you want to know? Are you uncomfortable about people becoming gynecologists and you want to have more understanding so you become less comfortable? That sort of thing.
posted by foxjacket at 9:27 PM on May 5, 2010

My best friend is a surgeon, and he told me that through all his years in pre-med, med school, his residency and beyond, he never ever encountered someone that knew what field of medicine they would end up in, and if they did claim to know it would always eventually change.

I know this is anecdotal, but it sheds light on the idea that a lot of very serious, knowledge and practice based, and compassionate reasons go into choosing one's medical field of study, and not the whim of an naive dolt.
posted by Detuned Radio at 10:13 PM on May 5, 2010

One point I haven't seen made yet; half or more of new gynecologists are women, who have vaginers their own selves!

In addition to helping others and making money, I'm pretty sure they find girl parts interesting and historically under-studied much more often than they find them weird or disreputable.
posted by msalt at 11:15 PM on May 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I asked my rheumatologist a similar question about proctologists recently. He said that various factors guide a med student toward a specialty; it depends upon what really interests them in school and what classes they do best in, and there is also some financial consideration. Pediatricians, for example, are some of the lowest-paid specialists. And even doctors consider some things squicky; my rheumy said he'd have no problem being a proctologist or urologist, but he could never be a podiatrist. He's not crazy about feet.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:23 AM on May 6, 2010

An infertility doc I worked with (male) said he was curious and fascinated with reproductive health and helping people achieve their dream. Not to say he wasn't a tad on the pervy side though. I asked him if what is his reaction when he sees a really pretty woman and he said "well sure if she's hot your mind glitches for a second but you're also there to treat them." And seeing we were intimate for a very brief time, it skeeved me out.

But he also said "If you think, as a guy, you're going into this to see how women's privates all day, trust me that's the .05%. People go to a gynecologist for "issues" and sometimes those issues can be really nasty and gross. And then there is the whole beyond 40 years old. I'm not getting hot and bothered over a healthy 70 year old woman. Nor am I getting hot and bothered with a 20 year old pretty on the outside but she has a raging STD going on. So it's not all sunshine and flowers all the time."

Sorry but these reasons are why I have a really hard time ever going to a male OB/GYN unless it was necessary. It took a valium and lots of self talk to see my male infertility doc (not the guy I "dated" either but he did work with him at some point.) but for that it was a matter of seeing the best and getting a baby out of it. So I had to get over it.

But on the flip side, my OB/GYN (female) said it was fascinating and obviously something she could relate with. She wanted to educate, help, heal, and enjoy the birthing experience with women. I 100% agree with her. I see a woman because I just felt a man would never understand symptoms or empathise as well as a woman would. Although her female partner that actually delivered my son had a "meh" kind of bedside manner.
posted by stormpooper at 7:20 AM on May 6, 2010

OP, do you mind sharing with us why you find gynecology less respectable than other branches of medicine?

Interesting that you would compare them to surgeons and family doctors. Those are both fields that get plenty of unwarranted criticism too (surgeons: "they're just butchers, they don't treat anyone" and family docs: "if it's a real problem, they refer the patient to a 'real' doctor"). Both of those professions are extremely important to society, regardless of immature jabs.

I've had ob/gyn friends as well as family members, there's no bragging involved (well, no more than the occasional, "I'm a doctor, I save lives" which is completely true).

Plus, a doctor examining a vagina in clinic/hospital is completely different than someone looking at a vagina in porn, dirty magazines, or during sex. It's like a doctor examining an eye, an ear, a throat, etc. Inferring otherwise (as you did in your question) is extremely offensive as it implies that their conduct is less than professional/unethical and just a bunch of pervs. Which is why we haven't had much answers from actual ob/gyns here.
posted by Neekee at 7:49 AM on May 6, 2010

btw, your question also infers that there's something less than respectable about female reproductive organs (since you find it less respectable to treat those than what other specialists do). You've offended a lot of people with this question. Not just women, but sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, grandfathers, etc have relied on (and benefited from) ob/gyns doing their jobs ( for which they trained several years), keeping people alive and well.
posted by Neekee at 8:13 AM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why do people become gynecologists? I don't understand why gynecologists go into their profession.

They become gynecologists because gynecologists are needed specialists. There's auto repair places that specialize in transmissions, but not fuel injection systems. Likewise gynecologists specialize in women's reproductive parts, but not so much lung and breathing issues (or any other specialty). They are drawn to the profession for a number of reasons which could include money, not having to deal too much with terminally ill patients, ability to work for non-profits for a cause they believe in (reproductive rights), fascination with the circle of life, or a need for a gynocological specialist in a particular geographic area they wish to live in or service. Some people would not go into gynecology because it is not for them for any number of reasons which might include that they are squeamish to all medical stuff, there is no need for more gynecologists in theri area, they find another part of the body more interesting, they are a man and don't feel they would be able to relate to a patient's physical pain enough, they don't want to specialize at all (they want to be a general family doc), etc.

They look at women's vaginas all day. How do they explain that one to family and friends? Do they brag about it? Are they embarrassed?

They do much more thank look at vaginas all day. They perform cancer screenings, continuously check women through pregnancy to avoid problems, deliver babies, work with women who have issues conceiving or holding a pregnancy to try to determine a cause and solution, treat cancers of the female reproductive organs, treat benign tumors on female reproductive organs, and many more things. They usually explain it to family and friends by saying "I'm a gynecologist." In western culture, gynecology is an acceptable career and the need for gynecologists is recognize. The health of vaginas, uteruses, ovaries, etc can't just be ignored because they have a sexual stigma in some contexts. I think you are missing the idea that vaginas in and of themselves are not something to just whack off too. they are an essential part of human biology. Likewise, proctologist is needed to look at butts because like it or not, your butt is important in getting toxins out of your body. Butts seem gross, but are actually essential and western culture has realized that no good is done by restricting medical attention because of a social taboo. I have never heard one brag (other than preferring to be called Dr. Person rather than Mr. Person). They are not embarassed.

Why don't they go into a more respectable branch of their profession, like a surgeon or a family doctor? Why would they specifically choose gynecology?

Gynecology is respecable. All segments of medicine are just as respectable as others. one of the cornerstones of western medicine is that they treat medical problems without considering stigma. Doctors of all stripes are supposed to treat patients. this is why even if someone is a horrible terrible person, when they go to the hospital the doctors will still treat them. If you can separate the female reproductive sytem (and the male for that matter if you are wondering why anyone whould want to treat testiculat cancer or erectile dysfunction) from the idea of highly sexualized sex, you still have a body system that needs regular care and health. Just as you need you eyes to see, humanity needs women's reproductive systems to survive. I have already addressed why they would specifically choose gynecology.

Tl;dr - People become gynecologists because they are respected just as much as any other medical professional because most of western society appreciates that women's reproductive sytems are a functional part of humans and need maintenance just as much as a heart, liver, lungs, or other organs. Most people are also able to think of a woman's body in a medical sense and a sexual sense without confusing the 2. This usually comes with maturity to someone of an average upbringing.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

About midway through my gyn rotation (and associated ob rotation) I realised what the attraction was. Most of the branches of medicine are quite balkanised, either into specific patient-lite silos such as pathology or radiology, or located very specifically somewhere along a spectrum with "pure" surgery at one end, and "pure" medicine at the other. Ob-gyn is quite unique in that it blends both medicine and continuity of care with surgery and hands-on cutting. There are few other specialties that enable practitioners to become and stay experienced in both the medicine and the surgical aspects. You can both treat problems on an ongoing basis, or you can go for a definitive surgical fix. With ob-gyn these two aspects are intimately combined. Finally, the field of practice is sufficiently narrowly defined that a practitioner can train and become adept across the specialty without necessarily choosing to become super-specialised.
posted by meehawl at 10:28 AM on May 6, 2010 [15 favorites]

You know, I've wondered the same thing at one time or another, especially since I'm surviving two types of gynecological cancer. But then I've also wondered why would anybody become a prison warden, a plumber, a guy who puts tar on the road, a pathologist who looks at stool samples, a proctologist, a police officer, a soldier, one of those guys who works on high skyscraper scaffolding, a lawyer, a judge, CIA operative, a secretary, a banker, an accountant, slaughterhouse employee or person who breeds/sells animals to be eaten, a fisherman, a politician, a public relations person... None of these jobs interest or seem appealing to me but they do to others and I accept that people can be different than I am, interested in different things and make a living out of that interest, ambition, passion or talent.

The wording of your question supposes people feel shame about being a gynecologist, that it's something to be ashamed of and not respectable. But when you think about it in that sort of simplistic, negative way, why is taking a knife and cutting people up for medical purposes (surgeons), drilling into pus filled or decaying teeth (dentists), delving into anal recesses (colo-rectal doctors), checking out zits, warts and wrinkles (dematologists), dealing with nutcases (shrinks) more respectable?

My older half brother is a doctor and once he told me when he was in med school that one of the most beautiful things was to see the inside of the abdominal cavity of a human being, all that intense color, the shiny beauty of the intestines. I about puked right then but was impressed that he really likes looking inside the human body.

The vagina is an awesome thing really, not just for putting a penis into, although that part alone is quite amazing. There is nothing to be ashamed about the amount of pleasure human beings get rubbing organs. The vagina is additionally connected to the cervix and the uterus, an astounding muscle that is capable of growing in size from the size of your fist to fitting a watermelon sized baby, housing that baby for 9 months, nourishing that baby, evicting that baby at the right time and doing it all over again. Was just looking at these pics of unborn animals inside their mother's uterus. Pretty interesting.

Maybe the real question is why do you feel that the vagina is something shameful?
posted by nickyskye at 9:30 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Because vaginas are awesome. If you don't think they are, then you're missing out big time.
posted by micawber at 10:59 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are all gynecologists also obstetricians? I'd assumed there were gynecologists who didn't deliver babies (because they don't like the hours perhaps), but all of the answers here say Ob/Gyn or mention bringing babies into the world as a perk of being a gyn.
posted by morganw at 5:02 PM on May 7, 2010


An obstetrician is a physician who has successfully completed specialized education and training in the management of pregnancy, labor, and pueperium (the time-period directly following childbirth).

A gynecologist is a physician who has a successfully completed specialized education and training in the health of the female reproductive system, including the diagnosis and treatment of disorders and diseases.

Typically, the education and training for both fields occurs concurrently. Thus, an obstetrician/gynecologist is a physician specialist who provides medical and surgical care to women and has particular expertise in pregnancy, childbirth, and disorders of the reproductive system. This includes preventative care, prenatal care, detection of sexually transmitted diseases, Pap test screening, and family planning.

posted by nickyskye at 1:52 AM on May 8, 2010

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