A Male Student on OB/GYN: A Period Piece

Third year rotations are generally daunting enough on their own. You’re essentially thrown in to a new job with new bosses and expectations on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis. It’s a whirlwind of confusion and stress, and, to make it worse, you’re underqualified for whatever task that you’re attempting to do. But it’s all part of the learning process and you largely leave the rotation feeling educated and capable at a basic level.

Now that take all those already stressful factors and amplify them by about a 100 and now we’ve made it to the “guy student in OB/GYN” portion of school. It is an absolute hurricane of pretending that you know what you’re doing and/or talking about. Me, a 25-year-old male from a conservative-ish family who’s probably said the word “vagina” about two dozen times in his life, is now deemed “the professional expert” in the eyes of these women coming for medical care. Of course, I’ve learned all about the female reproductive system in lectures and feel quite knowledgeable about the science of it all. However, knowing the physiology of a woman’s menstrual cycle, and understanding a woman’s menstrual cycle are not the same thing, I’ve come to see. Needless to say, being well out of your comfort zone is the best you can hope for.

Examples of my obvious unfamiliarity show up often while taking histories. They include interactions like the following:

Patient: “I’ve been having heavy periods…like soaking through a pad every couple hours.”
Me (has never worn a pad, held a pad, and is unaware of whether a pad has the absorbency of diaper or a Brawny paper towel): “Sheesh, that’s terrible! A whole pad?! I can’t even imagine!”

Patient: “My periods have gotten lighter with the medication, but I’m still having some bleeding between. Just some spotting sometimes.”
Me (has never had a period, and still has no idea what spotting even is): “Geez, that’s just the worst.”

Patient: “The pain with my periods lately has just been intense. The cramps are almost too much to handle.”
Me (has never had a uterine cramp, but sometimes gets a calf cramp while running, so I guess it’s like that): “Wow, I’m so sorry about that. Are you making sure to stay hydrated?”

These are just a few of the many, many conversations I’ve had with patients, and there are many more that I’m sure I have already repressed and will likely arise later in mid-life therapy sessions. But, all in all, having the opportunity to become intimately familiar with a vital and amazing, albeit often quite annoying I’ve gathered, physiologic process that is generally restricted to one sex alone has been a lot of fun. As a male on an OB/GYN rotation, you come in knowing a lot about the science of a period and yet still almost nothing about it at all. And you leave knowing still fairly little but having far more empathy for the process and the people involved. And I have greatly appreciated having the privilege of connecting with women in a way that most men probably never will.


Brantley Dick

I grew up in the small town of Hartsville, SC with a lot of land and a lot pets. I then moved on to Columbia, SC where I majored in Exercise Science and minored in French at the University of South Carolina. While there I worked several jobs, made awesome friends, and had the time of my life. After deciding on medicine, I moved down to Charleston to pursue my lifelong desire to be a waiter for a year prior to hopping on the physician career train for good. I’m a big fan of exercise, reading, cooking, traveling, attempting to learn Spanish, and jokes.

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