What your family doctor can do for you
For everyday concerns about your sexual, reproductive or post-menopausal health, your primary healthcare provider is well equipped to provide the necessary care, says Toronto-based sexual health educator Lyba Spring.
"A woman does not have to see a gynecologist to have her internal exam," she says. "Any GP or nurse practitioner can do it. In fact, at some Public Health Unit sexual health clinics, nurses are trained to perform what is called an expanded role and are able to do the internal exam."
Your regular family caregiver can also provide birth control counselling, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screening, breast exams, and address any concerns you may have about things like PMS and irregular periods.
To ensure your appointment goes smoothly, arrive prepared with a list of any health questions you may have, any medications you are currently on, write down the first day of your last period and record any unusual symptoms. Also, be sure to bring up any concerns you might have early in the visit so there is enough time for you doctor to address them thoroughly.
How often should I go?
According to the Canadian Women's Health Network it's important to start having regular Pap tests within three years of any sexual activity or by age 18 if you are not sexually active.
The Pap test is usually done as part of a routine pelvic exam and is used to detect any changes in the cells of the cervix, which over time could develop into cancer.
Once a woman has had three yearly negative Pap results, she can start screening every two years, says Spring. However, she recommends that women see their doctor more often if they have had unprotected sexual activity with a new partner so they can be screened for STIs. Women should also schedule an appointment if they are having any unusual symptoms such as bleeding between periods or after sex, or abnormal discharge.
Page 1 of 2When should I see a gynecologist?
Gynecologists are doctors who have specialized training concerning the health of the female reproductive system, and their skills include the ability to diagnose and treat related disorders and diseases.
Your family doctor or healthcare provider might refer you to a gynecologist for any health concerns beyond the scope of family medicine. For instance, if a woman has an abnormal Pap result, her caregiver may refer her on for a colposcopy, a procedure to identify abnormalities, and then from there to a gynecologist for the treatment required to remove abnormal tissue.
"A GP might also refer to a gynecologist following an initial work-up for issues like pelvic pain not diagnosable from an ultrasound, an unusual mass, fibroids, an ovarian cyst which does not resolve [and] possible endometriosis," says Spring. "Long story short: a GP or a nurse practitioner can do a lot of the well woman examination necessary for a woman to maintain good sexual health. A gynecologist is a specialist with their own scope of practice."
How can I find a doctor?
To find either a family physician or gynecologist, the first step is to narrow your focus. Make a list of the things you are looking for in your doctor: are you more comfortable with a man or a woman? Do you want to go to a small practice or a large clinic?
This is a good time to ask around and see if your friends visit a physician or gynecologist they like and would recommend. You can also ask for a recommendation from your current healthcare provider.
Also, by visiting the web page for the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province, you can find a list of doctors accepting new patients in your area.
Once you have chosen a few potential doctors, you can schedule an introductory visit. Here you can see what their practice style is like, find out their availability and assess your own comfort level.
For more information check out:
• Everything you need to know about breast health
• Health secrets from people around the world
• 6 ways to keep the weight off
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