Men often prefer male doctors, but their feelings about masculinity can keep them from being more upfront with them about their health problems, a study in the March issue of Preventive Medicinefinds.
Researchers wanted to figure out what may be playing a role in the gender gap in mortality, said Diana Sanchez, Ph.D., a study co-author and an associate professor in the School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychology at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
“One thing that we were curious about was whether it had to do with men’s underutilization of preventive care, miscommunication with doctors and being raised to be self-reliant and brave,” Sanchez said.
For the study, researchers conducted surveys and interviews with hundreds of men. Researchers found that masculinity, such as the need to appear tough, played a role in men’s preference for male doctors. They also found that men with high masculinity scoresshared fewer details with male interviewers about their health than with female interviewers.
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The new findings complement a study from October 2014 Sanchez co-authored, in which researchers looked at the gender role beliefs of male and female college students and other adults, asking if they followed two masculine ideologies: whether a person based her or his self-worth on self-sufficiency and whether a person based self-worth on bravery.
Participants rated certain aspects of the health-care experience, such as how likely they were to downplay their health issues andhow frequently they sought preventive care.
Both women and men who based their self worth on self-sufficiency and bravery were less likely to seek preventive care and more likely to delay getting health problems examined by a health care professional, found the study, which was published in theJournal of Health Psychology.
However, in both samples, more men supported traditional gender roles than women, and rated the personal importance of self-sufficiency and bravery higher than women. That, as a result, led to poorer health choices in men than women.
“Men show a delay to utilize preventive care,” Sanchez said. “They’re less likely to use it. When they have an injury they’re more likely to delay care. When they go to the doctor, they choose a man and don’t communicate clearly what is wrong with them. It points to a vicious cycle.”
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Sanchez added it may be a big ask for physicians to get people to disregard their gender role when it is “embedded in their culture.”
“What we can do is make men aware of how their masculinity is affecting their communication with their doctor and tell doctors they need to create a nurturing environment to encourage patients to be accurate,” Sanchez said.
Reprinted with permission from The Nation’s Health, APHA.