Dr. Bob here! I wrote this post as an answer to a question I’ve been asked many times. Now that I take most kinds of insurance, it’s time for me to start reaching out to the Vitality Community to see how I can help expand our reach.
The first place I want to start is with a direct challenge to men.
Why should you go to the doctor?
(note: This article is written from a cis-gendered heterosexual perspective, mostly aimed at cis-gendered men, but I recognize how complicated gender truly is and believe part of the issue is the dichotomy our culture pushes. The football player vs. the cheerleader dynamic of gender is a huge problem)
When I joined Vitality NW as a practitioner, one of my goals was to get more men to come into the clinic for their own care (Not just because their partners told them too). The practice has mostly focused on women, moms, and kids, but I want to get men, dads, and other male presenting individuals to come see the doctor. However, there is a massive societal barrier to making this happen. That is, the existence of the ever present question: “Why should men go to the doctor?”
No one asks this of women in our society. Women’s use of the health care system far outweighs men’s usage, and the studies to prove it are below. Little girls are brought to the doctor more than little boys. Are women somehow by nature sicker than men?
Do they have significantly more mental health issues?
Although there are clear differences in the occurrence of different disorders between the biological sexes, it’s not enough to explain this difference.
One cause of male underutilization of the medical system is masculinity. Masculinity in itself is not a bad thing, but there are toxic elements of masculinity that lead to higher mortality rates of men in the United States. I feel it is part of my job as a naturopathic primary care provider at Vitality NW to help dispel this toxic masculinity, so men can get the care they need and live their lives to the fullest without the barriers presented by antiquated gender norms.
To answer the question, “Why should men go to the doctor,” I ask “why not?” The evidence shows that men who subscribe to masculine gender norms such as the importance of bravery and self-reliance over other qualities seek less care and may die 5 years younger (!!!). Masculinity leads to more risk taking behavior, worse nutrition and higher alcohol consumption.
See a doctor because regular care could save your life and make that longer life a lot more pleasant.
Self-sufficiency is wonderful, however a man’s health also impacts others, like friends and family. A father who doesn’t seek care models the same lessons for his children. One reason men often don’t go to the doctor is the idea that they don’t feel sick enough and they feel it only impacts themselves. Some of the biggest killers in the United States like heart disease and diabetes can develop silently until they can no longer be ignored and treatment is complicated. A sudden heart attack or coma is definitely going to impact your loved ones.
Consider this my plea, as a dad who does battle with masculinity himself. Seek care. Come see me, come see Dr. Hart. Go see anyone. Get the screening you need, the care for that bothersome health thing that happens sometime. Then follow up, ask questions, seek answers if you they don’t come quickly. Evidence shows that patients that advocate for themselves get better care. It also shows that men tend to less honest and forthcoming with their doctors and ask many less questions, thus advocating less and complicating care.
One last time- why should men come to the doctor? They should come to the doctor for the same reason anyone does: to feel better, for support, for screening, and for treatment. Men get high cholesterol, diabetes, thyroid issues, heart disease, pain, have mental health issues, libido changes and countless other conditions that can be managed effectively and often naturopathically if found early.
The positive aspects of masculinity such as the importance of duty, care of one’s family, fatherhood, persistence, and any number of other traits should encourage men to seek care from a physician. A father’s health, mental and physical has a direct impact on his family. If you are male and reading this, take note: seeing a doctor today may help your family 10 years from now, even if you’re currently young, single, and healthy. When you get in we will look at your lifestyle, perform a physical exam, run labs, address mental health, and can discuss masculinity all in comfort, without judgement.
For many men, recognizing the failure of these gender norms is a great step towards seeking better care and truly realizing themselves as a full well rounded human being. It may be a little scary to see a doctor; we know that, so we will be sensitive and direct to ensure you get the care you need.
I also know that seeking care is hard. As I write this, I, a naturopathic doctor, am in dire need to seek care. I need screening labs to check my blood sugar, thyroid and cholesterol. Medical school does terrible things for student’s health, so now that I’m seeing patients it’s time for me to practice what I preach.
Are you ready to take care of your family by taking care of yourself? Get on the books.
If you see me, ask me if I’ve sought my own care yet, challenge me, like I will you- because even having just written all of this, overcoming those deeply ingrained ideas is a daily battle.
Let’s work together.
Courtenay, Will. Constructions of masculinity and their influence on men’s well-being: a theory of gender and health. Social Science and Medicine. 2000; 50 (10)
Himmelstein MS, Sanchez DT. Masculinity impediments: Internalized masculinity contributes to healthcare avoidance in men and women. J Health Psychol. 2016;21(7):1283-92.
Thompson AE, Anisimowicz Y, Miedema B, Hogg W, Wodchis WP, Aubrey-bassler K. The influence of gender and other patient characteristics on health care-seeking behaviour: a QUALICOPC study. BMC Fam Pract. 2016;17:38.