Why do male gynaecologists and obstetricians choose their profession? That’s the question journalist Nikki Gemmell asked in a recent piece for The Australian. Originally published on Saturday, the article has since caused debate across the nation, with everyday women and leading health professionals sharing their views on the topic.
In the piece, Gemmell questioned the motivation men have to explore a career that focuses on female genitalia and used the example of a female doctor friend who claimed male gynaecologists “hate women” and that they “like to see them [women] in pain”.
“A brutal assessment, yes, but a fascinating observation from someone who’d spent decades in the profession,” Gemmell wrote.
She also mentioned two high-profile cases where male gynaecologists performed unnecessary techniques on women, before drawing from her own experiences. The journalist explained that when giving birth to her fourth child at 44, she was made to feel by a male doctor that she was “a mere vessel” and that all the focus was the baby’s health and survival.
Gemmell also wrote about two friends who claimed male doctors made inappropriate comments and were too invasive, before adding that she wanted more women entering the profession.
Associate Professor Gino Pecoraro, AMA Board Chair, was one of Gemmell’s many critics and confirmed on RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas on Monday that he’d registered a complaint about the article with the Australian Press Council.
“I’m disappointed that so little research was actually done into the subject that she’s writing a column about,” Pecoraro said.
He explained that the article was “insulting” to the thousands of Australian gynaecologists and their patients and that gender and sexual preference shouldn’t play a role in careers people choose. While Pecoraro accepted that Gemmell could share her views, he expected that more research was done, particularly when writing about something that can distress many people.
“When in her research of this column, did she actually ask a male gynaecologist? But to suggest that any professional would choose their profession for voyeuristic reasons, or because they wanted to exert control over someone else, that’s gone too far, and that does need to be called out,” he told Karvelas.
Gemmell did ask a male obstetrician why he chose his profession in her piece and he said because it brings him “closer to the whole source and mystery of life”.
Debating the claim that more women are needed in the profession, Pecoraro explained that he was involved in research which found one-third of patients wanted female gynaecologists, a third wanted men and a third didn’t care.
“But most of the women, when you broke it down, said they really didn’t pick their caregiver based on their gender, which is absolutely the way it should be,” he said. “We shouldn’t be telling men they can’t be gynaecologists – or women, for that matter, that they can’t be engineers or lawyers. It’s just wrong.”
He added that across Australia and New Zealand, more than 85 per cent of trainees are women but with anywhere between 7 and 30 per cent of women preferring to see a male gynaecologist, men shouldn’t be discouraged from pursuing this career.
Other women shared their views online. One comment on The Australian’s article read: “Apologies to all the fabulous male gynaecologists and obstetricians. This article decries the wonderful job you do.”
Another said: “In 15 years of referring women for both obstetric and gynaecological care I’ve had zero patients come back reporting anything to what Nikki maintains in her article.”
A third added: “As a female gynaecologist and now fertility sub-specialist, I have known, been trained by and mentored truly excellent male colleagues. I feel obligated to defend them here.”
Gemmell appeared on Tuesday’s episode of Today following the backlash and claimed she had received letters from women in regional areas who had no choice but to see male gynaecologists, but would feel more comfortable with females.
She added that it wasn’t her intention to undermines trust that women have in male doctors.
“There’s been a lot of misinterpretation and I would ask people to read the column before jumping to conclusions,” Gemmell said.
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