For girls, the phrase “becoming a woman” during adolescence can consist of many different new experiences. For some it might mean anything from buying that first pair of wedge shoes, trying mascara for the first time or dealing with the hassle of acne. But becoming a woman may also mean something much more important: Choosing your first gynecologist.
Making the transition from pediatric care to gynecology services doesn’t have to mean switching offices. Dr. Lia Erickson, pediatrician of Novant Health Forsyth Pediatrics – Westgate, said that family physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners receive training in adolescent gynecology and most pediatricians feel comfortable treating adolescent gynecological problems. “We work very closely with our gynecologic colleagues and often make referrals for diagnoses that might be less common,” she said.
She added that most pediatricians feel comfortable treating abnormal periods and cramping and can prescribe contraceptives. “Most of the pediatricians in town will take care of our adolescent patients through college, although some patients choose to transition earlier,” Erickson said.
Erickson said that choosing the right time to transition from a pediatrician to a gynecologist for gynecologic needs can happen when the patient feels most comfortable. “Some young women choose to transition a little earlier to receive care at a gynecologic clinic, and some women choose to wait until they are 21 years old when general guidelines recommend a woman receive her first Pap test.”
“Adolescence is a time where patients go through lots of transitions where they start to take on a little bit more of the responsibility of their own health care,” Erickson said. “They are also sometimes starting to make more adult decisions or face adult issues and it’s really important that they have a health care provider that they trust to help navigate these issues.”
Many adolescent girls will begin seeing a gynecologist and will continue to see their pediatrician for well visits, sick visits and sports physicals, Erickson said.
In a typical well adolescent visit, Erickson said she and her patient will talk about menstruation and puberty. “We talk about any concerns she might have with her period, normal variation in menstrual cycle, and treating any symptoms such as cramping or heavy periods. Most of these can be treated in the pediatric office.”
If you opt for your daughter to begin seeing a gynecologist, the first visit should be warm, friendly, nonintrusive and informative. Most clinics do not plan to perform a pelvic exam at the time of first evaluation. If a pelvic exam is indicated at subsequent visits, the provider will discuss that in detail with the patient and ease any fears about that new experience.