Purpose. To investigate the perceptions of third-year medical students about how their acquisition of skills during their obstetrics and gynecology clerkship may be affected by their gender. Method. From January 1999 to December 2001, all third-year students at one school completing their obstetrics and gynecology rotation were given an anonymous questionnaire addressing whether gender had a positive, negative, or neutral effect on their learning experience. Students were also asked to enumerate procedures they had performed (e.g., deliveries and speculum examinations) and to rate their ability to counsel women on several clinical problems. To further investigate the perceptions of gender discrimination, a focus group of 12 fourth-year students was held. Results. A total of 263 questionnaires (95%) were returned. Of the respondents, 78% of the men felt their gender adversely affected their experience, and 67% of women felt gender had a positive affect. All but five of the remaining students were in the neutral group. Those students who reported a positive gender effect performed significantly more speculum examinations (15.5 versus 12.3), labor coaching (8.7 versus 6.2), and independent deliveries (3.4 versus 2.7) than did the negative gender-effect group. The positive gender-effect group felt more confident of counseling skills. The neutral group did not differ from the negative group. The overall numerical differences among groups were small, and all groups, on average, performed adequate numbers of skills to meet clerkship objectives. Conclusions. There is a strong perception among medical students that gender influences experience on their obstetrics and gynecology clerkship, but the differences are actually small. Possible reasons for such strong feelings are addressed and related to the history of sexism in reproductive health care and to the ethics of patients' preferences.
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