What is a gynecologist?
A gynecologist is a medical doctor/physician who specializes in the care of women and their reproductive organs. Most gynecologists have experience in general medicine as well as surgery of the female genital tract. Many gynecologists are also obstetricians who care for pregnant women and deliver their babies.
Going to the gynecologist
Although some family doctors have experience in the routine care of women, in general most women should see a gynecologist at age 18 or when they become sexually active (which ever comes first). Many gynecologists’ offices have skilled nurse practitioners who will administer routine care under the guidance of a gynecologist. Routine care includes an annual pap smear, birth control information, and a physical and pelvic exam. A woman or girl should also see a gynecologist if she is having pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal or menstrual bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge or other symptoms pertaining to the female genitalia.
A pap smear is a sampling of cells taken from the cervix. It is a very important test to screen for the presence of cancer. It also can detect abnormal cells that may be the precursors for cancer. These are called dysplastic cells. Your pap smear can occasionally identify sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes or human papilloma virus. You should have a pap smear once a year beginning at age 18 or when you become sexually active and continuing for the rest of your life. Your annual pap smear is important and one of your best weapons in protecting yourself from cervical cancer.
A pelvic exam is performed by a doctor or nurse practitioner. It begins with the patient lying on a table with her feet in “stirrups”. This allows the doctor to examine the external genitalia and insert a speculum which opens the walls of the vagina so that the cervix can be seen. The doctor or nurse then gently scrapes the cervix (pap smear) so the cells can be evaluated in a lab. After the speculum is removed, the doctor will insert several fingers into the vagina and push on your lower abdomen in an attempt to feel the uterus and ovaries. This can be easily done in very thin females but is more difficult in heavier women. Some doctors will then put a finger in the rectum and vagina to evaluate the rectal wall and check for blood in the stool.