Personal Views Personal views

Girl power

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 03 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1077
  1. Abi Berger, general practitioner, north London, and science editor (aberger{at}
  1. BMJ

    When we agreed to become an all female practice, the decision was not taken lightly. My male partner retired last year and we assumed it made sense to replace him with another man. The best candidate, however, was a woman, and the entire team was in agreement. Yet still hesitating and worried that we would not be offering a fair service, we took soundings from several patients. Not a single male patient, of any age, said it mattered whether the doctor was male or female, nor did they say that it would bother them if they had a choice of only female doctors. But we did get some negative comments and, surprisingly, it was the older women who were sometimes disgruntled. One said that she didn't believe that women should be doctors at all.

    Despite lingering reservations, “girl power” arrived in May, and we have not looked back. Occasionally I overhear the receptionists telling patients that they should think of us as doctors, not as women, and invariably these patients have come out saying, “You were right—it worked.” We may have lost a few patients with the changeover, but to my knowledge this has had nothing to do with gender.

    So what are men looking for in a doctor? Like women, men say they are looking for a doctor with whom they feel they have a rapport. While female patients will often ask for a female doctor if they want to consult on more “personal” matters, men may also want a same sex doctor to discuss similar matters. We have all noticed, however, that men do seem able to approach us about these sorts of problems too. But it usually depends on our having already established some sort of satisfactory relationship with them. New patients tend to want to try us out first. And I suspect that had they had a male doctor to choose to consult in the first place, they would have chosen him to discuss these sorts of concerns.

    Men—like women—also say they want a doctor who listens, and one who is competent and confident. For some patients, these skills may be perceived to be related to age. In our practice we are all under the age of 40 and our relative youth may represent more of a barrier than our sex.