When I was 22 years old, a male doctor told me there was no point in checking for breast cancer. If I got cancer at that age, I would die anyway.
This was in Austria — a country with amazing free health care — after I told him my grandmother had died of breast cancer. Fortunately, the lump in my breast turned out to be just a fibroid.
Later in life, I had to have a hysterectomy because a male doctor failed to tell me about the severity of the fibroids I had developed.
I don’t know if my outcome would have been different if my doctors had been female, but 2023 research has confirmed previous findings that female doctors create better outcomes and fewer complications.
Today I choose female doctors over male doctors whenever possible — mainly because my personal experiences with male doctors haven’t been the best but I’m not surprised that the study confirms my gut feeling.
Female doctors provide better care.
We are conditioned to see men as the experts and, therefore, give more weight to the opinion of male doctors.
That’s why I didn’t give it a second thought when I chose male doctors when I was younger.
They were also easier to find in the 90s and I wouldn’t have dreamt of doubting their expertise.
However, after a couple of similarly unpleasant experiences, I felt a sense of dread whenever I had to go for a check-up.
I didn’t like going to my doctors because I felt they didn’t care about my experiences and symptoms and dismissed them.
I also didn’t trust them, an experience I feel many women can relate to.
Knowing what I know now, I would have switched to female caregivers sooner and perhaps saved myself from traumatic and unpleasant experiences.
Especially since my lack of trust in my doctors made me seek medical care less often than I should have — reinforcing negative outcomes I might have avoided.
Trust in your physician is one of the big factors that influence the effectiveness of your treatments. In a 2017 study, Johanna Birkenäuer and team found:
“From a clinical perspective, patients reported more beneficial health behaviors, fewer symptoms, and higher quality of life and were more satisfied with treatment when they had higher trust in their healthcare professional.”
We now know that trust in your doctor even makes placebos more effective. So much so that it has become difficult to discern the effect of a new drug compared to the placebo administered to the control group.
Building trust isn’t the only tool that female doctors use to provide better outcomes.
There are identifiable, statistically significant differences in how men and women deliver medical care.
In the article “Are Women Really Better Physicians Than Men Are?” JoAnn Grif Alspach, editor of Critical Care Nurse Journal, lists ways women physicians are more likely than their male counterparts to provide the following to their patients:
- Adherence to clinical guidelines and evidence-based practice
- Preventive measures and advice
- Patient-centered communication that involves patients as partners in care and more co-decision-making
- Psychosocial counseling: asking more questions about the patient’s circumstances and environment, offering encouragement and reassurance
- Spending more time with patients
It seems obvious that following guidelines and evidence-based practice would produce a better outcome.
And at least to me and most women, it’s not surprising that men think they know better — and that they think they don’t have to follow the rules. Most women are more inclined to follow guidelines.
Men are more likely than women to be overconfident in their abilities. There is even a term for it: The Confidence Gap.
In a follow-up study to the now well-known Dunning Kruger Effect that focused on the perception of women on their competency, Kruger and Ehrlinger found that “men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both.”
While this may be slightly annoying in normal life, in health care, this poses a real threat to your well-being.
Research on gender differences in health care has been ongoing for decades. Some of the above findings come from articles written in the 90s.
But only now, with changes in access to information, are we becoming more aware of important information that affects us all.
Medical professionals are using the Internet and social media to share their findings with the public.
For example, Dr. Arghavan Salles, MD, Ph., used her TikTok platform in August to spread the word about a study she co-authored. It shows that female surgeons have significantly better postoperative outcomes than male surgeons.
The study looked at a cohort of 1 million patients and found that “those treated by a female surgeon were less likely to experience death, hospital readmission, or major medical complications at 90 days or 1 year after surgery. This association was seen across nearly all subgroups defined by patient, surgeon, hospital, and procedure characteristics.”
There’s a strong gender bias in healthcare that leads to a variety of problems we face.
When a friend of mine suffered from a prolapsed disc in her neck, she was in pain and had issues moving her arm. She had to endure a 6-month odyssey until she convinced a doctor that she wasn’t crazy. And believe me, she lobbied hard.
Some doctors ignore women’s pain and symptoms. They label women who suffer from chronic pain as “emotional” or “hysterical.” Or they pretend that our issues are due to mental health issues.
Combine this mindset with a lack of following protocol or preventive advice, and the possibility of a negative outcome or complications rapidly rises.
Of course, there are incredible male doctors and bad female doctors, too. That goes without saying. The key to a better outcome is not the gender but the way the care is provided.
So, when choosing a doctor, choose one that displays the list of characteristics that allow female doctors to deliver better outcomes. And most important of all, find a doctor that inspires trust.
Ronke Babajide is a seasoned tech professional with over 25 years in the industry, currently leading a team of System Engineers at Fortinet Austria. She is a passionate advocate for diversity in tech and mentors women in the space. She writes about tech, feminism, and women in the workplace both on Medium and Substack.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.