The XX Factor

Are Your Female Doctors More Empathetic Than Your Male Ones?

DoubleX is starting a new partnership with the Washington Post Magazine . Each week our contributors will argue over a certain question, and we invite you to join in. This week: Are your female doctors more empathetic than your male doctors?

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Hanna Rosin : I always imagined I’d have a woman deliver my babies. It seemed like the right place to end what Our Bodies, Ourselves started nearly forty years ago. No more patriarchal doctors! Women helping women! With my first child, I joined a D.C. practice where you see one of several doctors. The men I saw seemed nice enough, but I was waiting for the day I fell on the woman doctor’s rotation. Then that day came, and she was an absolute nightmare-insulting, insensitive, unpleasant. The day I went into labor I prayed that she would be playing golf, weeding her garden, killing defenseless insects, or whatever it is mean doctors do on weekends. Luckily, she was not on call.

Dahlia Lithwick : Hanna, like you, I joined one of those group practices for a specific woman OB/GYN. When she left town I inherited a male OB who not only delivered my second son with panache but also slow-walked me through a breast lump scare. On top of all that, he tells me preposterous things every year at my annual exams (“You have the lung capacity of an Olympian,” and “You haven’t gained a pound this year”) that you might expect from Carrie, Charlotte and the rest of Team Sex and the City .

Liza Mundy : I have a female dentist I love. What she does in addition to great dentisting is great chatting. All during the procedure she riffs about her boys, her life, her new dress. It’s a deft and (I’m quite sure) deliberate distraction-women’s communicative abilities put to therapeutic use.

June Thomas : Amen, Liza. The best dentists are great monologists-after all, during most procedures the patient is in no position to join in the conversation. Since I’ve spent more hours than most in the dental chair, my dentist ran out of ripped-from-real-life anecdotes long ago, so we settled into a routine in which she’d tell me the plot lines of TV shows or books she’s read. She’s had tears rolling down my face-from laughter-and there’s no way Laura Hillenbrand’s book could live up to Dr. Isaacson’s version of Seabiscuit . Women aren’t traditionally known as raconteurs, but maybe that’s because they don’t have time to hang about in bars or break rooms. Given a couple of hours and a tricky crown seating, they can spin a yarn with the best of them.

Holly Allen : I love my RE. She helped us have our boys. She comes across as very serious and no-nonsense. One day, she leaned over and I caught a glimpse of something that made me love her forever: Along with her crisp, white doctor’s coat and perfectly pressed business suit, she was wearing cow socks.

Emily Bazelon : In my OB-midwife rotation for my first pregnancy, there were eight women and one man. My labor went on so long that I saw three of them in the hospital. The first two were women. They were patient, if not overly attentive. The male doctor was the one on call for the actual delivery. He yelled at the nurse and barely spoke to me. How I wish one of the midwives had been there instead! For my second pregnancy, I switched to an all-female practice of one doctor and four midwives.

But our most beloved family doctor ever is our sons’ pediatrician, Sydney Spiesel, who is also a Slate columnist (no coincidence). We have twisted our health coverage into a pretzel to keep going to him. Gender is just irrelevant to good doctoring.