By: Dr. Jacqueline Kohl
During my career I have learned to face a harsh reality. Much like the dentist, no one is excited to visit their gynecologist. Whether a woman is having a problem, wants to discuss birth control or just needs an annual checkup, she almost never counts down to her appointment with anticipation. I find this especially true for adolescents and young women who have never had a gyn exam before. Your first trip to the gynecologist can certainly cause anxiety. To help with that, here are some things you can expect at your first visit.
When should I have my first appointment (or when should I bring my daughter in)?
The short answer is it depends. Pap smear screening for cervical cancer is recommended to start at age 21. I recommend being seen prior to a first sexual encounter, or as soon as possible after. Anyone having issues with periods, discharge, pain, or other problems should be seen, regardless of age. I also suggest scheduling a visit for anyone planning to go away for school, even if not sexually active. If the situation changes while at school, or a new issue develops, it helps to have an established relationship with a gynecologist you can trust. Your visit will be tailored to your concerns.
Who is in the room?
Generally, the patient and the doctor. Sometimes there will be a medical assistant present as well. If you prefer to have a parent or other person there for support, that is also ok. However, at some point I will usually ask the parent to step out to the waiting room to ask some personal and confidential questions. My goal is patient comfort, especially with such sensitive visits.
What will we talk about?
In a check-up visit, I cover a variety of preventive care topics. For teens, this might include general health, stress, home life and safety, school and/or work, exercise and activities, smoking, drinking and drug use. I spend time talking about menstrual cycles and discussing what is normal and what needs more evaluation. We also would discuss relationships & safety, sexual activity (of all types), protection from and screening for infections, and contraception. Importantly, anything discussed in with the doctor is confidential. Honesty is important to receive high quality personalized care.
What else can I expect?
Visits at the gyn office often include an examination as well. A gynecologic exam can include a breast exam, an abdominal exam, and a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, we inspect the external genitalia thoroughly, insert a speculum to examine the vagina and cervix (and can collect a pap smear or test for STIs) and perform a bimanual exam. With a bimanual exam, the physician performs a vaginal exam with the other hand on the lower abdomen to feel the uterus and ovaries, and to check for abnormalities. We can order tests or medications and provide information about reproductive health.
Your first visit seeing a gynecologist doesn’t have to be scary! Let the doctors and staff at Philly Women’s take care of all your gynecologic and preventative health needs. At least it’s not a teeth cleaning!