The difference between male and female patients

It’s never so obvious to me that there’s a big essential difference between men and women as when we take a family trip to Target.

First, when you’re holding a small baby or even an older baby or even a preschooler, you get a lot of attention. People love to look at small babies. And by “people,” I mean “women” only. When I walk around with the baby, women are constantly coming up to me to gaze upon her. On at least three separate occasions, old ladies have stopped me and said, “Can I please look at your baby?” And then I held the baby out so they could marvel over her little face for several minutes.

Has a man of any age ever expressed any desire to look at the baby? No, never.

It’s not that men don’t like babies, I guess, but there’s something innate to men that keeps them from gushing about little babies in the aisles at Target. Something beyond just not wanting to look like a pervert.

And then there’s the other difference.

When we go through the clothing department, I must look at the clothing. Even if I came to the store for something entirely different, even if I don’t need clothes or even really want clothes, I have to look at the clothing. I’m not even really into clothes, but I still feel this compulsion.

And if I see something I like, I have to touch it and maybe check to see if it’s in my size. Sometimes I even have to try it on. And it takes huge amounts of willpower for me to drag myself away from an item of clothing that I really like.

I know it’s not like that for my husband. If he needs shirts, for example, because every shirt he owns is falling apart at the seams, he goes to the store and buys shirts. If he doesn’t need shirts, he doesn’t have any interest in looking at shirts. It’s like they don’t exist. When he sees me eying the women’s clothing department, he always laughs and says, “What’s wrong with you?”

I was recently reading a post by the very articulate Dr. Whoo about the difference between male and female patients. She says that female patients are more complicated (in a good way), whereas with male patients there is “little extraneous conversation, merely exam, diagnosis, suggestion for treatment.” With all due respect to Dr. Whoo, I 100% disagree with this analysis of the male patient. I put in oodles of time at the VA, and I’ve had men that I could not shut up for anything, who pick apart everything I say, or who are very anxious. I can’t honestly say that male patients are in any way simpler than female patients, and I certainly can’t say they’re less talkative.

However, her post got me wondering if there are specific differences between male and female patients (beyond the obvious anatomical differences). Because we are definitely different, as evidenced by my trip to Target. But I’m really having trouble thinking of any consistent differences.

“Fizzy” is a physician who blogs at A Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor.

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  • Tim Wall

    Dear FIZZY, MD.,

    Actually, I’m a straight male, who isn’t ashamed nor afraid to gaze at a baby, or tell the mother or father their baby is really cute. Yes, I used the “c” word. Some women, find this makes men seem weak.

    Just the fact that you raised the “pervert” topic, is proof enough, that there still exists a nasty stereotype in our society. Men who’s homophobia takes them to a point of not appreciating a small cute baby, have missed out on life.

  • Mark Holmes

    What do you think? Agree/Disagree? I tend to agree.

  • Anonymous

    The VA is a special case–bored oldsters who want to talk to a (preferably young) woman. Can’t say that I blame them. Otherwise most men just want to get in and get out, with minimal emotional overlay.
    Incidentally, as a man who also wants to get in and get out when I go the doc, I find it curious how so many women misunderstand us, thinking we are “afraid” of showing our emotions, or some just nonsense.  Ladies, it’s not fear, it’s simply that many of us simply do not have any feelings whatsoever for many of the things you think we should have feelings for.  It’s indifference. Indifference to shirts when shirts are not needed  is simply a  normal male mental state. Your husband might like the shirts section more if they had ESPN SportsCenter on in there.  I am totally series about this.  Of course we don’t generally expect females, even smart ones,  to understand all this. I’m trying to get my wife ( doctor!)to understand this, but it is not easy for her. Older women, and ones who have spent a lot of time with men, seem to get it better.  Male and female brains are very different.  I’m going into the garage now.

  • Lucy Hornstein

    I think *people* are different.

    I like babies, but I can ignore clothes. (Pocketbooks OTOH…)

    Do (some) men feel a similar compulsion in the sporting goods department? Do they need to pick up each football in a bin, flip it around in their hands until the seams are positioned “just right”, then fake a throwing motion; or even call to someone at the end of aisle and actually throw it?

    People are different. Stereotype by gender — or any other characteristic — at your peril!

    • Anonymous

      People *are* different.

      I’m female, and not only do I have no interest in clothes, I have no interest in strangers’ children.  I don’t think they’re cute, or even worthy of comment.  At best, they’re boring, and I generally ignore them.  Children belonging to our friends and family?  I like them fine, because they’re part of our social circle.  Children aren’t intrinsically interesting, though.

      Oh, and my husband ignores the sporting goods department, and ESPN SportsCenter would be purgatory for him.  He has even less interest in sports than I do.  At least I know it’s football season.  I think.

      Now, show the pair of us the book aisle, and we’ll be occupied for hours.  Neither of us can resist a puppy, either.

      • Anonymous

        As you recall from your statistics courses, mean and variance are very different things indeed.

        • Anonymous

          To review your basic statistics course, that is actually not necessarily a true statement.

          To paraphrase Dr. Hornstein:  stereotype by gender at your peril.

          • Anonymous


    • Anonymous

      People are indeed different, and those differences are correlated with sex.  Do some men jones for the sporting goods section or the hardware section? Yes, some do in fact.  And BB Guns are a huge draw for my 9-year-old son.  Of course there is overlap in emotion and behavior between the sexes, but the fact remains that mean or average emotion and behavior are significantly different in certain domains–for excellent evolutionary reasons. And these differences are cross-cultural, mind you. Ignore biology at your peril!

  • Doug Capra

    Do a google search, or a search through medical publication sites, for articles about male psychology
    relative to why men don’t visit the doctor as much as women do. Check your area to see how many 
    Women’s Clinics there are as compared to Men’s Clinics (Do let us know if you even find a Men’s Clinic.)
    Find studies and articles about patient gender choice, patient modesty issues — see how much emphasis
    is placed upon men’s feelings about these issues as compared to women’s. Check several clinics and 
    doctor offices in your area (dermatology, urology) and find out how many male medical assistants are on
    the staffs — just in case some men would prefer some privacy in the form of same gender care. Go to 
    your local hospitals and find out how man male nurses are on staff, and how many are included in each
    shift, just in case some men would prefer same gender care for some more intimate procedures. 
        I don’t think the medical profession, in general, takes men’s feeling seriously. I think men are too often
    stereotyped, e.g. this how men feel about this or that, all men. Bedridden women facing a bed bath, shower, foley insertion, or other intimate event are often asked if they would prefer a female nurse — or even more often, they just get one. Males are rarely even asked. It’s just assumed they don’t care one way or the other. Assumptions.
         Yes, men are as complicated as women. Men just don’t communicate their preferences or feelings as often as women do. Men hold in their frustrations and humiliation more, and it comes out in other unhealthy forms. 

    • Anonymous

      You’re ignoring the fraught relationship medicine has with women.  The ways in which women differ from men medically have been treated as pathology from the beginning.  Men are human, women are sick men.  

  • Molly Ciliberti

    Babies remind us that there is a future and that there is hope for the human race…….and they are adorable.

  • Anonymous

    Okay, here’s your basic Gender Difference 101 lesson for heart patients:  whenever I go in for my stress echocardiograms, unlike my male counterparts, I’m guessing there’s a big difference between a strange man rubbing his transducer over, under and all around my bare breasts while I lie there on my side singing la-la-la songs in my head – and him doing the same to the bare chest of your average male patient. (And by the way, the next time a male echocardiographer casually tells me to strip to the waist, he’d better buy me dinner first . . .)

  • Doug Capra

    carolynthomas — How about a female cna, patient tech, or nurse giving a male patient a bed bath or inserting a foley? Does your point work the other way around — or is this just a one way street?

  • Anonymous

    I’m a female who has no interest in babies. I had 2 of my own and really was not that enthralled with them either.  People ARE different and fall at different ends of the curve.

  • Expat Doctor Mom

    Dear Fizzy

    I wonder if because you and I treat both male and female patients (and Dr Whoo does not) we attract the men who want/need to speak more.  There is a reason why men prefer to see a female physician?

    At any rate I would say more women than men in my practice need more of my time and need to be heard. 


  • Anonymous

    Here’s the difference:
    Women get sick.
    Men die.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s the difference.
    Women get sick.
    Men die.

  • Doug Capra

    “There is a reason why men prefer to see a female physician?”
    Please supply the evidence. Cite more than one study. Include studies that
    interview men as to why they chose the gender they choose. Make sure the
    studies break down the reasons why men go to one gender or the other, i.e.
    the context of the appointment, i.e. the nature of their illness or disease or

    Let’s see if we can get away from stereotyping and into quantitative data. 

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