Health Note: Pediatrician Gender: Does It Matter?

By the time they reach adolescence, most boys and girls are more comfortable having a doctor of the same gender.

By Christina Elston

My daughter had male pediatricians for most of her childhood, and they were great. But when she hit adolescence, we decided to look for a woman doctor. It was about that time that her doctor started asking me to leave the room for part of her annual checkups.

"We will usually start to kick the parent out of the room when the child becomes a teen, so they can feel like they can ask questions about sexuality or other possible risk behaviors that they do not want to talk about in front of their parents," explains Ari Brown, M.D., a Harvard-trained pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. And this is just the point where it may help to have a doctor who is the same gender as your child.

"From personal experience," Brown says, "I can tell you that my teenage male patients tend to gravitate toward the male partners [in the practice] when they start playing football and my male partners end up losing their female patients when they get their period. My son's friends all came to me when they were in preschool and elementary school and, now that he is 12, most of them have left me!"

Comfort is really the issue, says child psychiatrist Anandi Narashimhan, M.D. "The most important thing is that the patient feels that they can trust that doctor," Narashimhan says. "And, as a parent, you should feel the same way."

The doctor also needs to be focused on communicating with your child about important health issues. And this goes beyond just contraception and STDs. Pediatricians are often the first to discover when a child suffers from depression, says Narashimhan, and doctors should be ready to talk to patients about issues as diverse as substance abuse, bullying and suicidal thoughts.

"You want somebody who's sensitive and sees the child as a person, and wants to deal with these kinds of issues, not just the ear infection," Narashimhan says. "Otherwise, a lot of these kids just get missed."

Christina Elston is a health writer for Dominion Parenting Media.

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