Health Junior Doctors

An open letter to Nikki Gemmell

Nikki Gemmell wrote an article about whether Obstetrics and Gynaecology was a job for a man in The Australian newspaper. It sparked outrage amongst the medical community, including myself. Here is an edit of the letter that I emailed Nikki, which includes screenshots of some of my tweets:

Sent 18 June 2019, 7:52pm

Dear Nikki,

My name is Yumiko Kadota. I am a female doctor who has been cared for by both male and female gynaecologists. Although I did post a few tweets in response to your article in The Australian, titled ‘Is it really a job for a man?’, I felt that the tweets weren’t really enough to express my entire response to your article.

I am sorry for women, including yourself, who have had poor experiences with obstetricians or gynaecologists. Just like any other profession, there are both good doctors and bad ones. However, I felt that it was unfair to discolour a whole specialty based on a few bad experiences. The questions you asked were loaded and therefore biased.  I realise yours was an opinion piece rather than an impartial piece of journalism, however the problem I have with you expressing an ill-informed opinion on a platform like The Australian with a broad readership is that there is potential in harming both doctors and patients.

Firstly, the doctors. Looking at female genitalia is not the only part of being an obstetrician or gynaecologist. Obstetricians have the privilege and joy of bringing new life safely into this world, and sharing the miracle of birth with families. Isn’t this a good enough motive? The science of a baby growing from a small embryo is also very complex and fascinating. For those who have problems with fertility, being a fertility specialist can change the lives of couples who are struggling to conceive. This is another wonderful part of obstetrics – helping couples. And how about gynaecology? As you may or may not be aware, ovarian cancer is a silent killer. Gynae-oncologists are surgeons who save women’s lives. Maybe a male gynaecologist had a mother or sister die from ovarian, endometrial, cervical, or other cancer. We don’t know what inspires each doctor to choose his or her own specialty. It is often a personal decision, and who are we to judge? Lumping them all into one category of ‘perverts’ as your article insinuates, offends a large group of professionals who have worked hard to specialise in their chosen field.

Doctors are professionals. Every doctor must study every part of the human body in great academic detail throughout medical school and training. And yes, we all need to know about the ‘intimate arenas’ too. What about male plastic surgeons who offer breast reconstruction to women who have needed mastectomies for cancer? Do you think that they are ‘voyeuristic’ too? Having worked with a great number of plastic surgeons, I can inform you that they don’t look at breasts in a sexual way at all. Reconstruction is very scientific, mathematical and architectural. It is about symmetry, proportions, measurements, viability of bodily tissues, and it can involve highly technical microsurgery.

My comment on @GongGasGirl’s Tweet. She is an Anaesthetist who is always on the pulse about what’s happening in the medical community.

By suggesting that male obstetricians and gynaecologists may have a sick motive for choosing their career path threatens the doctor-patient relationship, which is based on trust. By sowing that seed in women’s minds, it creates doubt and a sense of uneasiness. What if a woman had just seen a gynaecologist that day and read your article? How would she feel? It’s already an embarrassing thing to have to see a doctor about genital or reproductive issues without having to worry about whether they are being violated or not. You are thus creating angst amongst current and prospective obstetric and gynaecological patients.

I felt that someone like yourself who has found international success in the literary world could have done so much better with this piece. It simply quoted a bunch of your friends’ opinions, which sometimes contradicted each other. You begin by asking why male obstetricians and gynaecologists have an interest in ‘the most intimate of arenas’ yet you later quote a friend complaining about how her obstetrician ‘would do anything to avoid examining her nether regions’.  It’s unclear what your point is – are you disgusted by a ‘voyeuristic’ obstetrician, or one who has no interest in having a look at all? An opinion piece should have an opinion. Yours has multiple opinions that are messily put together and you don’t come to a natural conclusion.

My reply to Dr Jill Tomlinson’s excellent thread in response to Nikki Gemmell’s article. She is a Plastic & Reconstructive surgeon and Victorian representative on the AMA Federal Council. You can follow her on Twitter @jilltomlinson

The article abruptly ends with your plea for more females in O&G. As some of my colleagues have already said in their comments and tweets to you, 83% of trainees in O&G are female. Compare this to 4% of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Lastly, your mention of whether you’d find a gay gynaecologist is irrelevant and homophobic. Why should sexual orientation matter? What if a gynaecologist were a lesbian? Would you then put her under the same scrutiny as straight male obstetrician-gynaecologists as you have done? A doctor is judged by his or her merit and character. If I were to have a medical condition, I don’t care if my doctor is male, female, straight, or part of the LGBTQI+ community. As long as I get a high standard of care, that’s all that should matter.

I hope that this might explain to you why so many people in the medical profession have reacted so fervently to your article.

Kind regards,

Yumiko Kadota

The cover image used for this blog post is by the very talented Leonie Psillis, who is the Sydney artist behind the Hera Series

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6 Comments

  1. Jane says:

    I’ve never like Nikki Gemmell. Thank you writing to her about what sounds like a very juvenile piece of “journalism”.

    1. Miko says:

      Hi Jane,
      Thanks for your comment. I haven’t heard back from her, but judging by the large number of tweets and comments she’s receiving, I’m guessing that she is inundated. I don’t have any opinion of her as a fiction writer, as I’ve never had any interest in her books, but I certainly hope that she will step down as a writer for a newspaper like The Australian, because she is not a proper ‘journalist’ – agree with you on that! Miko

  2. Shauna Murray says:

    Thanks for your article, I agree with you sentiment that to suggest that male obstetricians or gynaecologists are unprofessional unfairly impugns a huge group who are doing a wonderful job.

    I think the damage that has been done to the reputation of male obstetricians by Emil Shawky Gayed and Graeme Reeves cannot be underestimated. These men were left for many years to continue practising, despite complaints and concerns being raised about them by many people, and because of that, hundreds of women were impacted. This has caused some loss of trust in the profession in the wider community, unfortunately.

    1. Miko says:

      Dear Shauna,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is really a terrible thing that behaviours of just a few ‘dodgy’ doctors has caused society to lose faith in certain specialties. Given the sensitive nature of O&G, that trust issue is magnified when it comes to male obstetricians/gynaecologists, and the article has only propagated this fear. I do feel sorry for any male O&G specialists who feel that they now have to prove their intentions because of this article, which I think did more harm than good. I was glad to see that most of the comments on the online article were dismissive of Nikki Gemelli’s thoughts.
      Miko

  3. Angela V says:

    As a nurse, I have worked with male doctors, and they have (and still do) treat their female patients with respect and concern. With any job you’ll get a bad egg now and again, but to lump them all together is just offensive and insulting. I mean, what’s next? Female nurses and doctors choose their job so they can see and touch naked men? So they can see men in pain? I wish this whole male-hate theme was over and done with! Thanks for a good article.

    1. Miko says:

      Hi Angela,
      Thank you for your comment. This was such a disappointing article to read in an established paper like The Australian. I totally agree with you – I don’t understand the need for male hate. Not all men have bad intentions, although I acknowledge that there have been a few high profile cases that have created distrust. I was glad to see that the overall response has been to support male obstetricians and gynaecologists.
      Miko

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