Or, Lady Doctor Panel Tells Lady Doctors "Ladies Only"

The New York Times' boring title: Gynecologists Run Afoul of Panel When Patient Is Male

At first glance, of course, the reaction is, "No shit." And, if one is being crass, "No shit—if you can't tell the difference, gynecology probably isn't for you." I realize that we all make mistakes sometimes (I mean, if you watch those "College Physicals" videos, you realize that that is probably not the way to treat a twisted ankle), but if it happens more than a couple of times, you should look for another profession.

As it turns out, it's more complicated, and more annoying. Apparently a number of gynecologists have been treating men for a condition that can lead to anal cancer using techniques that have been helpful in dealing with cervical cancer. Who knew that expertise in one area of medicine (diagnosing and treating a condition that can lead to cancer) might allow a doctor to do a really good job of helping patients in a related field (diagnosing and treating a condition that can lead to cancer)?

But nope, says the field's governing body:

Though most of her patients are women, Dr. Stier, who works at Boston Medical Center, also treated about 110 men last year, using techniques adapted from those developed to screen women for cervical cancer.

But in September, the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology insisted that its members treat only women, with few exceptions, and identified the procedure in which Dr. Stier has expertise as one that gynecologists are not allowed to perform on men. Doctors cannot ignore such directives from a specialty board, because most need certification to keep their jobs.

Now Dr. Stier's studies are in limbo, her research colleagues are irate, and her male patients are distraught. Other gynecologists who had translated their skills to help male patients are in similar straits.

And researchers about to start a major clinical trial that is aimed at preventing anal cancer, with $5.6 million from the National Cancer Institute, say the board's decision will keep some of the best qualified, most highly skilled doctors in the United States from treating male patients in the study. The director of the planned study and Dr. Stier have asked the gynecology board to reconsider its position.

But the board, based in Dallas, has not budged.

"We haven't heard of any compelling reason to change anything," said Dr. Kenneth L. Noller, the board's director of evaluation. He said there were plenty of other doctors available to provide the HPV-related procedures that some gynecologists had been performing on men.

Dr. Larry C. Gilstrap, the group's executive director, said the specialty of obstetrics and gynecology was specifically designed to treat problems of the female reproductive tract and was "restricted to taking care of women." Of the 24 medical specialties recognized in the United States, he said, it is the only one that is gender-specific, and it has been that way since 1935.


So, to Elizabeth Stier and her fellow female gynecologists who've been moonlighting trying to save men's lives, Kenneth Noller and Kenneth Gilstrap would like to remind you that you should be more aware of issues facing women, like they are.