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Graphics, Op-eds

Tisch ’17: Why Brown needs a gynecologist

Op-Ed Contributor
Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Like many people, I am not particularly fond of pelvic examinations. Even when performed with the utmost care, sensitivity and expertise, this essential examination can be a source of both anxiety and discomfort.

I recently visited Health Services to deal with a nonurgent “female” issue. I was prompted to ask my doctor about her credentials when her suggested course of treatment included applying a known vaginal irritant. It turns out my doctor at Health Services was a family medicine doctor, not a gynecologist like I had requested on the phone. When I asked where the gynecologist was, the doctor informed me that Health Services does not have a gynecologist on staff and offered me an off-campus referral.

I left my appointment feeling flustered. My first qualm was with Health Services’ website, which offers gynecological examinations without mentioning that there is no board-certified gynecologist on staff. This lack of transparency astounded me. How could this happen at a school that prides itself on its commitment to its female students’ well-being?

I checked online and called other universities’ equivalents to Health Services to see how they meet female students’ gynecological needs. Within the Ivy League, Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Penn have gynecologists on their health services’ staff. Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell and Princeton do not, though the latter three have a “women’s specialist.” From what I could gather from its website, Brown Health Services offers no such thing.

Hiring a gynecologist would not be the first example of Brown having a specialized medical staff member. In fact, the athletics department has an entire medical staff with two team physicians and nine athletic trainers to treat 900 student athletes. Meanwhile, there are over 3,500 Brown students with vaginas who cannot get proper gynecological care on campus. It is ridiculous that we do not have at the very least a part-time expert to meet our specific medical needs.

I understand that different bodies have different yet equally important medical needs. I understand that as a cis-woman, I can only speak to a cis-female perspective. Some may argue that the prioritization of hiring a gynecologist is sexist. The important difference for me is time sensitivity. It is recommended that men be screened annually for prostate cancer starting at age 50. This affects very few students during their time at Brown. It is recommended that women be screened annually for cervical cancer starting at age 21. Being diligent and consistent with this practice is essential. Most female undergraduates will turn 21 during their time at Brown, and almost all female graduate students are over the age of 21.

I do not hate Health Services. In fact, I am confident that my doctor that day was an excellent family medicine provider. But at the risk of sounding like a feminist picture book, the vagina is a special organ that requires special attention. If Brown is truly concerned about the health and well-being of its female students, the University should make gynecological care ­— provided by a board-certified gynecologist — physically and financially accessible.

Charlotte Tisch ’17 can be reached at

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  1. Clementine says:

    UHS at Princeton has four Nurse Practitioners, all of whom have completed advanced degrees (Master’s) and clinical training, that specialize in Sexual Health. With the growing Physician Shortage, more and more Advance Practitioners are fulfilling primary medical roles. So, no, there are not gynecologists with a capital MD, but there are trained, knowledgeable, and experienced ob/gyn professionals, many of whose services are available to students for little to no cost.

    Do your research.

    • So basically the author was correct, Princeton does not have a gynecologist on staff. Thanks for clearing that up.

    • Luke Sherry says:

      lol that was a really long way of saying ‘the authors facts are right but I’m mad anyway.’ I think a frowny face emoticon would have worked, but i guess you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

    • Willie Sam says:

      Completely agree with Clementine. The writer should have at least gathered the facts before writing the article. For example, why not ask Health Services why there is no part time OBgYN? The truth is that specialized medical services are ridiculously expensive these days and a good GYN can make many thousands of dollars a day.

      So the author is suggesting that we take a specialist who can serve the needs of poor women who may need care for complicated procedures for which Gyns are specifically trained and for which there is a notable shortage and buy one out for Brown students who may need more routine care for which many GYNs may not be better suited than one of the practitioners suggested by Clementine.

      • Nothing ironic about someone named Willie trying to make decisions for a woman’s body. Great column, Charlotte, and good luck going forward. I’m sure admins at other schools would be glad to walk you through the process of gyno-equipping Brown.

      • Willie Sam says:

        So maybe Brown should go down to Planned Parenthood and see if we can outbid them for one of their doctors. Sorry, Brown has a vastly smaller student population than Penn, Harvard, Yale or Columbia and has an endowment that is comparably even smaller. It’s one of the tradeoffs of going to a middle-sized school.

  2. 1. This is an op-ed, not an article. This is the author’s opinion.
    2. Regardless of MDs vs CNP, etc. The fact is that no OB/GYN is offered at Brown. That’s the issue that should be discussed and debated.

  3. Thank you for this! As a student suffering from severe vaginismus as a result of past trauma I was unable to find a counsellor, gynaecologist, or physical therapist with training to treat this condition through Brown, or actually through any of Brown’s preferred providers. I ended up having to pay to go outside of Brown’s network, and going back and forth to so many different appointments, some of which had to be out of state, made an emotionally stressful experience even more challenging. I think that healthcare at Brown is great, but a full time gynaecologist would increase the chances that women facing complex health challenges can have their needs met.

  4. anonymous says:

    family medicine training includes training in obstetrics and gynecology. family physicians are very well trained to address routine ob/gyn well visit exams, including routine issues that likely include your non urgent “female” issue. and the bonus is they can also help address any other health concerns you have. if the issue is more complicated you would be referred out from brown anyways. brown health services is for providing basic primary care, including basic gyn care, and the family doctors and NPs that work there are excellent physicians for that role.

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