Real Men Do Need Doctors
They may feel too 'manly' to go, but that's exactly why they must
We were coming back from a brief run the other day, my husband and I. “Have you made any attempt to schedule a doctor’s appointment?” I asked.
“I don’t need to go to the doctor. I’m fine,” he said, despite having a few minor health problems. “Plus, when do I have time?”
That answer is what most women hear when they ask the men in their lives about scheduling routine health check-ups. Even when these men do see the doctor, several new studies confirm what countless others have for years — men still downplay their symptoms, especially in front of male doctors, in order to keep up what they believe is that strong, manly “front.”
These ongoing gender stereotypes have dangerous consequences, according to researchers and physicians. Men, especially those who consider themselves more “macho,” are less likely than women to visit a doctor, more likely to request a male physician when they do make an appointment — and generally have poorer health outcomes as a result.
Mary Himmelstein, a doctoral candidate in the psychology department at Rutgers University, co-authored three recent studies on gender and medicine.
"Men who really buy into this cultural script that they need to be tough and brave — that if they don't act in a certain way they could lose their masculinity [or] status — are less likely to seek preventative care, and delay care in the face of illness and injury," Himmelstein said.
In the first study, roughly 250 men completed an online survey on gender perceptions and doctor preferences. The answers revealed that those with more masculine leanings were more likely to choose a male doctor.
Another 250 men, all undergraduate students, participated in a staged medical exam given by male and female pre-med and nursing students. The findings: The more macho the patients, the less honest they were with their male caregiver.
Both trials were recently reported in the journal Preventive Medicine.
A third study conducted by the same authors and published in the Journal of Health Psychology involved gender-role interviews with nearly 500 males and females. The researchers found that men with traditional masculine ideals were less likely to seek health care, more likely to downplay symptoms, and had worse overall health compared with women and less masculine men.
- Feel invulnerable
- Have less desire to seek help
- Have a need for self-reliance
- Won't make the time required
- Don't want to spend the money
- Are unsure their personal actions lead to better health
Dr. Megan R. Williams Khmelev, a health advocate and staff physician at a clinic in San Antonio, Texas, knows the issue all too well. Men often have a very macho attitude toward health and even about going to their appointments, she said. They see illness as a weakness.
"They often shy away from [certain] procedures. I had a favorite patient in his 70s who declined getting a colonoscopy for nearly four years. He started having vague stomachaches and within months he died. A simple colonoscopy could have saved his life," she said.
She saw a similar situation with her father-in-law. He had blood in his stool but never said anything until his wife saw it incidentally. He passed away at age 60 this past year, she said — only because he didn't want a colonoscopy.
"I think they fear bad news and so they just don't go. But medical problems never get better with time," she said.
Dr. Will Courtenay, author of "Dying to Be Men," says that, while the latest studies aren't great news by any means, men have gotten a little better about going to the doctor.
"Twenty-five years ago, men were dying eight years younger than women were. And although men still lag far behind women when it comes to adopting positive, healthy behaviors — including doctors visits — men have been increasingly adopting healthy lifestyles and making it to the doctor more. As a result, men are only dying five years younger than women," Courtenay said.
Still, three out of four people who have not seen a doctor in more than five years are men, which helps explain why their diseases are often advanced and deadly when they finally get care, he noted.
"The ultimate consequence of not getting to a doctor regularly is an early death. The late detection of disease by a doctor is a major contributor to men's earlier deaths," said Courtenay.
Williams Khmelev couldn't agree more and offered her best advice. "The best medicine is preventative medicine. Exercise, eat right, and make sure you see your physician for a yearly exam."