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Menstruation and Doctors
Q: My 13-year-old daughter has just started menstruating. Should I keep sending her to our family pediatrician (who is male) or would finding a female doctor be better -- less awkward for her? I remember this time as being very uncomfortable for me, and I want to make sure she has a doctor with whom she feels comfortable. I want her to feel she can ask any questions she might have.
A: There is no reason why a teenage girl automatically needs to change physicians, and there are a number of factors you should consider.
If she's had a good relationship with her pediatrician for many years, and feels comfortable talking with him, then a change may not be necessary. A change could make asking questions more difficult if your daughter is shy or takes a while to get comfortable with a new person. You also need to consider the abilities, style, and comfort level of your current pediatrician. Many pediatricians are trained to take care of adolescents completely, but there are also a number who are not.
A physician who treats adolescents needs to be able to provide time and opportunity for the teenager to ask questions and participate in their own health care management. The physician should be able to manage common adolescent issues and provide education on topics such as: breast self exam, gynecologic issues, risk-taking behaviors, and nutrition.
Some male pediatricians have a female nurse practitioner in the practice, to help provide these services. I think it would be reasonable to talk with your daughter first to see how she feels about her current pediatrician. It is also perfectly reasonable to ask your pediatrician what he thinks, and if he is able to provide comprehensive adolescent care. If the answer is no, then your pediatrician may be able to recommend another provider for your daughter.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.