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Do Venus and Mars figure in choosing a surgeon?

Article-Do Venus and Mars figure in choosing a surgeon?

Torrance, Calif. — When June Wilbanks' fianc石uggested she meet with Dr. Christine Petti, M.D., F.A.C.S., to talk about getting an abdominoplasty, she hadn't, until that moment, considered having cosmetic surgery. She thought cosmetic surgery was "a vanity thing. It wasn't me." Furthermore, she says, the last time she had surgery was when she had her tonsils out as a child.

But even though she did aerobics three times a week, once she took a good look at her physique, she had to admit that since she entered her 50s, "things weren't in the same place they used to be."

Looking for answers

Ms. Wilbanks knew she could benefit from an abdominoplasty, but she needed a surgeon who could walk her through the process and calm her fears. Ms. Wilbanks and her fianc矷alked into Dr. Petti's office armed with a list of questions. Dr. Petti was ready with diagrams and slides to illustrate the procedure, and a liberal dose of comfort, Ms. Wilbanks says.

"She included him in the discussion and she put us both at ease."

Hot topic Doctor-patient interaction has become a hot topic since The Federation of State Medical Boards added a test on bedside manner to the 2004 physician exams. Good bedside manner, it's believed, means better communication, which hopefully means fewer doctor errors, and therefore, fewer malpractice suits.

But could there be more to the equation of ensuring good doctor-patient relations than training? Dr. Petti would agree that there is.

Simply put, she says, many women patients feel more at ease with a woman doctor. She credits this to a tradition perhaps as old as time itself — the art of "girl talk" — and she's not alone in this theory.

In a study conducted at the University of California, Davis Medical Center Primary Care Center, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association, female patients were found to be the most satisfied with their quality of care when treated by a female physician than those treated by male doctors, and more satisfied than men treated by male or female physicians. Similar studies have concluded the same, except for one study that found male patients treated by female physicians were the happiest group with their quality of care.

Operative factor And quality, not necessarily quantity, may be the operative factor.

The Davis Medical Center study revealed that both male and female physicians dedicated roughly equal amounts of time to their patients. However, the female physicians spent more time counseling the patient and covering preventive measures, while the male physicians spent more time on technical routine and practical discussions. Yet when the male doctors adjusted their rapport to a more nurturing approach, the female patients still preferred their female caregivers.

It may just be that some women are more comfortable talking with a woman doctor.

Dr. Petti has found that by encouraging an open dialogue, many women patients are more relaxed once they realize they can confide some of their deepest insecurities.

"I think they're worried about conveying some of their deficiencies or some of the things that have perhaps made them feel they don't look their best —- maybe revealing their eating habits or how they feel sexually. I think they feel more comfortable speaking to a woman and less self-conscious than perhaps revealing those things to a man," she says.

Another source of comfort for women patients is that they're talking about issues with someone who shares their common life experiences — especially if the surgeon is raising children, has experienced post-childbirth changes in her body and opted for cosmetic surgery to improve those changes.

Defends colleagues Dr. Petti is quick to defend her male colleagues.

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