If one of your goals is to stop putting off annual exams, finding a medical professional that you trust with your health (and feel comfortable speaking with!) is key for success. But choosing an ob-gyn or a gynecologist can sometimes feel like a daunting task — especially if you are looking for a professional with a certain speciality or have never had a pap smear before.
To help bring ease and clarity to the process, we interviewed an ob-gyn and a gynecologist for their best tips for patients looking for a doctor to turn to with all their vaginal, reproductive, and sexual health concerns.
Ensure You Feel Comfortable Sharing Medical Information With the Doctor
According to Taraneh Shirazian, MD, a gynecologist at NYU Langone Health, it's important to find a doctor that you feel fully comfortable speaking to and sharing all your medical details with — in order to get the most out of your visits.
"It's just going to benefit the ability of that provider to diagnose you, to treat you, and to provide you with sort of the best therapy and choices," Dr. Shirazian said.
On the flip side, your doctor should also make you feel heard, respected, and understood when you're speaking and should be willing and able to answer your questions.
Dr. Shirzain said it's really all about finding that patient-doctor rapport. So if you don't feel like you're getting that out of your appointment, think about continuing your search.
Consider a Specialist
If you have a specific gynecological concern — like PCOS, endometriosis, or fibroids, for example — Dr. Shirazian said it might be helpful to look for a doctor who specialises in that clinical area. Many doctors typically have these specialities listed in their professional profiles on their practice's website or on platforms like Zocdoc.
If you're planning on getting pregnant in the near future, you may also consider choosing an ob-gyn who handles deliveries, rather than a gynecologist who does not specialise in obstetrics. Dr. Shirazian added that there's nothing wrong with having two different doctors: an ob-gyn to oversee your pregnancy and a gynecologist you visit when you're not.
A general ob-gyn (if you happen to already have one!) can also be helpful in providing recommendations for gynecological specialists. According to Lucky Sekhon, MD, a fertility specialist and board-certified ob-gyn, many of her patients are referred to her through ob-gyns she trained with or experts that can vouch for her personality and bedside manner.
"It makes a lot of sense to go with a referral, but it doesn't mean you're going to necessarily match with the person," Dr. Sekhon added. "So, go in with an open mind. Don't feel like you're locked in and that you can't change to someone else if you're not comfortable."
Seek Second Opinions If You Wish
Remember: you're not required to continue seeing the first doctor you visit. If you don't feel comfortable during your first (or any appointment) with your ob-gyn, Dr. Sekhon said it's more than fine to go on another consultation or seek a second opinion on whatever concern you have.
"It's an intimate relationship that you have with your ob-gyn," she said. "They are asking you personal, intimate details about your life, and you're trusting them with something really sacred. You should follow your gut."
Do Your Online Research
Use the good ol' World Wide Web to your advantage when searching for an ob-gyn. While sifting through reviews can be helpful, Dr. Sekhon says to take "a lot of what you see with a grain of salt."
She said it's important to realise that you never really know who's writing the review and that there might be bias behind certain reviews as well. Finally, internet reviews are not always indicative of everyone's experience with a doctor. However, if a doctor does have a large number of reviews, Dr. Sekhon said you may be able to trust them slightly more than someone with just a few. You can also check out the doctor's website, personal website or blog, or even search for them on Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok.
"A lot of doctors are on social media now and doing a lot of patient education and putting themselves out there," Dr. Sekhon said. "You could look them up on social media, learn more about them, and see if their style is something you like."
Check for Board Certifications
When looking for an ob-gyn, Dr. Sekhon recommends looking for an expert that is board-certified. According to the American Board of Physician Specialities, board certifications imply the doctor has completed additional training requirements and exams to further ensure they are a specialist in that field of medicine.
If you're looking for a double-board certified specialist within gynecology, like an infertility specialist or someone that specialises in gynecologic oncology, Dr. Sekhon said it's important to remember that doctors can only get that second board certification after practicing for 12-18 months, and the board exams are only held once a year.
So if your doctor is not double-board certified, Dr. Sekhon recommended looking for someone who is board eligible. "It's up to you, the patient, to advocate for yourself and do whatever makes you comfortable," Dr. Sekhon said.