Spokane Journal of Business

Number of female ob-gyns here to rise considerably

More women are entering field, partly due to patient demand

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The number of female obstetricians and gynecologists nationwide is growing fast and is expected to shoot up even more, and while that growth has been slower in Spokane, observers here say its only a matter of time before female ob-gyns will dominate the field here.

As evidence of the shift, women now make up the majority of junior fellows in the Washington, D.C.-based American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG). According to the latest available figures, the number of female junior fellows who are members of ACOG rose to 72 percent in 2005, from 64 percent in 2000 and 44 percent in 1990, the organizations Web site says.

Most of the students enrolled in training programs nationwide are women, says Dr. Marynell Meyer, of Spokane Obstetrics & Gynecology PS. Thats a trend were going to be seeing over time.

Women enrolled in ob-gyn residency programs at Northwest medical schools also outnumber men. Out of the 24 residents enrolled in the University of Washington Medical Schools ob-gyn program, only three are male. At Oregon Health and Science Universitys program, 23 of the 26 residents are female.

Women make up about a third of the ob-gyns practicing in Spokane, says Dr. Robert Hartman, of Valley Obstetrics & Gynecology PS, who also is a past president of the Spokane County Medical Society. Hartman expects the scales will start tipping here soon more in favor of women, though, as more male doctors retire and females currently in training take their place.

Theres definitely a need for women physicians; theres been pent-up demand for a long time, Hartman says. The makeup of the field here will change, and thats very appropriate.

One factor contributing to the rising number of female ob-gyns is that the number of women entering the medical field in general has been increasing steadily, physicians here say. Women now typically make up roughly 50 percent of students enrolled in medical schools across the U.S., they say.

Female medical students flock to the ob-gyn field partly because they can relate to the issues their patients face, says Dr. Sharon Cathcart, of North Spokane Womens Clinic. An attraction to the nature of ob-gyn work and a compassion for patients, though, doesnt depend on gender, she adds.

Women choose the field because theyre attracted to womens issues, Cathcart says. Women have added a new dimension and thought process to the field, but men do a great job, too.

Patient demand for female ob-gyns always has been strong, but up until the last decade or so, patients choices were limited because most doctors were male, Meyer says.

Most patients would prefer to have a female doctor, she says. Especially older women, who had a male doctor who retired, feel more comfortable getting acquainted with a female.

While many women prefer female ob-gyns, some patients who have had male doctors their entire lives are reluctant to switch to a female doctor, Cathcart says.

Almost every doctor was a man in the 1950s, so when some patients come to me theyre uncertain on how its going to be, she says.

A few years ago, some medical schools started to discourage male students from pursuing an ob-gyn career, perhaps as a reaction to the increasing demand for female doctors, Hartman says. Recently, though, as the number of male ob-gyn residents has dropped dramatically, schools have been trying to direct men back into the field, he says.

Dr. Kurt Fine, of Spokane-based Associates for Womens Health, says he chose the field for the same reason many ob-gyns doit combines surgery with medicine and allows him to form long-term relationships with patients. The downside of the field is the long, demanding hours required, he says.

For the most part, you can take care of a part of medicine where the patient wants to be there, Fine says. Its a pretty positive field to be in.

Fine says he came to Spokane eight years ago partly because he had difficulty finding a job in bigger cities. He says he believes that in big cities especially, large ob-gyn practices now focus on recruiting women, mainly because theres more patient demand for female doctors so practice volumes grow more rapidly when an ob-gyn practice brings them in.

Cathcart and Meyer, both of whom have practiced here for roughly 20 years, say that when they came to Spokane, being one of a handful of female ob-gyns helped them join and grow their practices quickly.

While female ob-gyns are sought after, more factors than just gender play a role in patients preferences, physicians here say. Ultimately, the quality of care is most important to patients, they say.

Really what people want is a doctor who cares, Cathcart says. They just want someone who is professional and well-trained and attentive to their needs.


Associates for Womens Health, which consists of three male doctors, was looking to recruit a female doctor recently to give its patients the option of seeing a female, but had trouble finding qualified applicants, Fine says.

Large practices in bigger cities can be more attractive to female doctors partly because they have a better chance of being able to work part time in such practices, he says.

We didnt have females knocking down the doors, and I think thats partly because they can stay and work in the big cities, he says. Even in Spokane, though, most groups will only have females to choose from in the future when they look for partners.

Valley Obstetrics & Gynecology spent two years looking for two physicians, and has hired two men, Hartman says. The doctors group found few qualified female doctors who wanted to work in an everyday practice setting, he says. That preference isnt gender-based, necessarily, though, he asserts. Younger doctors, who had more limited work hours in residency than doctors did in the past, expect a more even balance between work and home, he says.

Recruiting doctors to Spokane, regardless of their gender or field, is challenging, physicians here say. The high cost of medical malpractice insurance and shrinking reimbursement rates pose some of the biggest deterrents to potential recruits, they say.

It casts a pall over the entire career; theres no way to trivialize that, Hartman says. As a community, were going to have a serious bit of recruiting to do in the next 10 years.

Contact Emily Proffitt at (509) 344-1265 or via e-mail at emilyp@spokanejournal.com.

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