Choosing the Right Doctor at Menopause

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

If you are looking for a new doctor, or switching for one reason or another, there are a series of questions to ask and steps to follow to ensure your choice is the right one. You deserve the best medical care

Why is it important to choose the right doctor?

As midlife women, our lives and health are changing rapidly. We are nearing (or have already reached) menopause. Noticeable physical and psychological changes require a doctor who understands and treats both aspects of our lives.

Finding a doctor who is well informed about treatment options (traditional and alternative) is an important goal when looking for the right doctor. Reducing and controlling menopausal symptoms is different for everyone because we are all wired differently. One relaxation exercise that works to relieve stress and subsequently hot flashes for your sister may not necessarily help your situation.

Sometimes it is a delicate process and a matter of trial and error to find what works best. A doctor will help decide what works best for you and guide you through treatment. Another concern may be finding a doctor who can continue to help your health after menopause. Make sure your doctor can help you in your post-menopausal stage and don’t rely on the health care system to do this for you.

Whom should I seek for advice?

Health care plans may limit your options for choosing a doctor but it is still essential to choose someone whom you find personally and professionally pleasant. Personality makes a difference! It would be difficult to disclose private information to a doctor who is rushing to see their next patient.

A combination of good personality and good technical medical expertise is what you should look for. Credentials support a doctor’s competency. A doctor with experience will have practiced techniques of specific medical procedures. If interested in a particular procedure (i.e., hysterectomy), ask the doctor how many times they have successfully performed one.

A good first place to begin your search for a gynecologist is your primary care physician. Doctors know each other! Your primary care physician knows you and your attitude and can probably assist you in matching up with the right OB/GYN.

If you do not know any doctors in the area, then a good place to start is by calling a local university. A nearby university may have a respectable OB/GYN department. Contact the department and ask them to recommend someone to you.

If there is no university near you, then you may want to call the labor floor of your local hospital. The nurses have experience assisting and watching OB/GYNs. They may be able to give you some good insight into finding a good doctor.

Another way to find a doctor is to check the list of certified menopause practitioners at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The doctors on their referral list have passed a menopause practitioner’s competency exam.

Although gynecologists are the health care provider that most women see for menopause, some women receive excellent care from nurse practitioners, physician assistants and general medicine MDs. However, these other healthcare providers do not perform surgery should you need it. If you choose one of these alternatives, make sure they are women’s health specialists.

Remember, the first doctor you visit may not necessarily be the doctor that is right for you. Don’t worry if you need to see 3-4 doctors before choosing the right one. You may be surprised to find there are different qualities you enjoy about each doctor from visit to visit. Try to choose the one with the most technical merit who best understands you ethically and medically. Whether the doctor is a male or female is personal preference. Both are equally capable.

What should I expect from my doctor’s visit?

Visiting a gynecologist for the first time requires a bit of paperwork. You will most likely be asked about your regular, general health habits and family history. Expect general health questions about diet, exercise and smoking. In addition, the doctor will probably ask you about your sex life. Standard questions include whether you are actively involved in a relationship, monogamous and your preference for contraception (if any).

One recommendation for women age 40 and up is to keep a calendar of your menstrual changes. Your calendar may include information regarding your flow and if you had any missed periods. A gynecologist will likely ask you this information so having it on hand will be helpful.

Yearly check-ups take about 15-20 minutes. Physical exams are important and include a cholesterol screen, blood pressure readings, a urine test and a lung/heart check. Gynecologists will usually examine your abdomen, do a breast exam, pelvic exam and Pap smear. Mammograms are essential to monitoring a woman’s health. You can expect to have an x-ray taken of each breast in order for the doctor to detect any abnormalities or cancer.

The National Cancer Institute recommends women in their 40s have screening mammograms every one to two years. Women over 40 should expect a rectal exam as well in order to check for blood in the stool. It is recommended for women of ages 40-50 to receive a physical exam every two to three years. After age 50, an annual exam is recommended. A colonoscopy should also be done each year after 50. The annual exams may also be modified according to your family and personal history.

Ask Questions, Learn More

Asking the right specific questions should promote good decision making when choosing the most suitable practitioner. Interviewing your doctor at your first exam should be standard procedure. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Educating yourself is crucial for choosing and knowing who is best suited to treat you during menopause.

If you feel it is easier to ask questions and share stories with other menopausal women, consider a discussion group or an educational program like the Red Hot Mamas. You’d be surprised how many women are going through the same thing as you. You’re probably not the only woman in your new town looking for the right doctor.