Please note that this article deals almost exclusively with the healthcare needs of biological (cis) females, and does not address the needs of trans women, trans men, or intersex people. It also does not address the differences in healthcare and medical treatment across the racial spectrum. While these are vital topics very worthy of discussion, they are excluded here simply because there is only so much I can cover in a single, one-topic, 700-word blog. I intend to address the needs of all of my spinsterly readers over time; this is simply the first of many articles on the broad topic of women’s health.

There are two major obstacles women face when obtaining healthcare. The first is accessibility, in terms of both geographic availability and affordability. The second, which I’ll be focusing on today, is a lack of knowledge about women’s healthcare needs.

What Is Women’s Health?

When you think of the term “women’s health,” you probably think of reproductive health, mammograms, and the yearly OB/GYN visit. If you have an insurance plan, it probably covers one yearly gynecological exam for women, in which pelvic exam, manual breast tumor check, and pap smear are done. If you are a middle-aged women, a mammogram every three years is generally included as well. If you have children, some portion of those expenses will be covered, and possibly even fertility treatments. And that’s pretty much the beginning, middle, and end of women’s healthcare as most people know it.

From this, a woman might get the idea that her health only differs from the standard of a man’s health in the fact that she has a uterus and breasts. She would be mistaken, but it’s no wonder we think this way. For decades the medical profession considered women’s healthcare needs to be identical to men’s, save for a few additional female-only issues (menstruation, childbirth, and – for a while – hysteria) . Thanks to a recent shift in thinking (and some 1990s legislation), we’re finally learning that the biological differences between men and women affect much more than we previously imagined. Sadly, old beliefs don’t die easy, and many women grow up believing that when it comes to medicine and healthcare what’s good for the gander is good for the goose.

Why is This Harmful?

In day-to-day life, these medical assumptions mean that women are often misdiagnosed, and that doctors and healthcare professionals often ignore female-specific symptoms of common conditions. For example, heart attacks typically manifest differently in men and women, as do a list of other conditions, including anxiety. Additionally, health education is lacking in these areas, meaning girls and women are taught only what applies to the ‘standard,’ which is men’s health. The end result of this poor education (in doctors and lay people) is that women are often not receiving the same quality in care, and usually don’t know how to ask for the care they need.

What do women need?

Now that we’ve covered what women’s health is not, what do we as women need from our healthcare?

The most essential answer is that we need healthcare providers and health plans that considers how our physical and mental well-being are affected by our biological makeup, including our sex. And we can obtain that by:

  • becoming educated

Pick up a subscription to a women’s health magazine. Buy a book dedicated to women’s whole health (including – but not exclusively – reproductive health). Learn about all of the things you weren’t told in your high school health and biology classes.

  • finding a good woman’s health doctor

Your knowledge will only take you so far by yourself. You also need to find is a doctor that listens to you, takes your biology and life situation into account, and believes you – no matter what their gender happens to be.

  • taking a firm stance when it comes to your health

It’s been shown that women’s pain is seen as less severe than men’s, so it’s up to you as the patient to stand up for yourself, rather than allowing a doctor’s dismissal to make you second guess yourself. If switching or searching for doctors isn’t a possibility, it is imperative for everyone, especially women and minorities, to be their own advocates.

The time to learn about what you need and to find a physician who can provide it isn’t 11pm on a weekend when you’re feeling unwell – it’s right now. If you’re an adult, no one can be more responsible for your health than you yourself. Don’t depend on a medical system that’s woefully behind the times. Be your own advocate starting this very moment.

The next articles will look into how to find a good doctor or women’s healthcare center, whatever your income level or state of insurance/non-insurance may be, as well as how to support women’s health.

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