Certified physician assistants can help change the culture around men and their access to medical treatment.
It’s no secret that male patients are less compelled to seek medical treatment throughout their lifespan. Whether due to flawed notions of masculinity or systemic difficulties in attending appointments, certified PAs can work to change deep-set attitudes men have about visiting a provider.
The problem is that men are half as likely as women to go to the doctor over a two-year period, according to 2014 survey data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even more alarming, men are more than twice as likely to say they’ve never been seen by a doctor or health professional as an adult-ever.
The frequency and types of preventative services men need regularly varies by age and health, but the one constant is that wellness checks should be done at least once every year. The most common medical issues for men are fatigue, depression, weight gain, loss of libido, inconsistencies in practicing good dietary habits, work/occupational stress, and caretaking stress associated with patriarchal responsibilities.
There’s a range of excuses men may offer to avoid seeing a provider. The “I feel healthy” argument prevails among men who are young and healthy, and those who do visit their providers may feel repeated visits are unnecessary if no medical problems were found during initial visits. Some men prioritize other responsibilities over their health and may be embarrassed about returning to their primary care provider to explain why they’re dealing with an aggressive medical problem. Some men fear their provider will find something they don’t want to be revealed or fear medical tests or needles. Financial worries or the lack of insurance coverage may also discourage them from seeking regular medical care. Sometimes, it’s instigated by pure societal expectations of what it means to be a brave and strong man.
As medical providers, we can work to debunk the popular misconception that seeing a medical professional regularly shows lack of masculinity, strength, good health, and autonomy by being better examples of how we want our patients to behave. We should be prudent about pursuing our own preventive care, and effectively and compassionately communicating that to our patients. If patients have a spouse, suggest they visit a medical professional in dual appointments so that a ready-made support system automatically exists.
Promoting healthy living
All men need to meet with their primary care providers at least once yearly for routine screenings and testing. Depending on age or health status, preventative services may include:
• Blood work
• Testing for fasting glucose, age-appropriate PSA, ECG
• Lipid cholesterol panels
• Chest X-ray, BMI and neck circumference
• Smoking cessation counseling
• Screenings for depression and erectile dysfunction
• Immunization status review
More than 40 percent of all certified PAs offer preventative services to patients across the nation, according to data compiled by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. We are prepared to practice in every medical specialty through ongoing certification maintenance requirements and recertification exams every 10 years. I’ve had unique opportunities to work in private practices, emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
Across the spectrum, here are a few tips I’ve shared with my patients to promote healthy living:
• Attend to good grooming. Good personal hygiene is essential. Looking good and feeling good often go hand in hand. Basic personal hygiene such as washing hands, cleaning your teeth, trimming nails, and getting enough sleep can pay huge dividends in staving off serious medical conditions.
• Attend to your mental and emotional health. Just as important as your physical health is your mental and emotional wellbeing. Men often get caught up in the trappings of work and family responsibilities and fail to take time out to invest in holistic wellness. Patients should carve out time to do what they enjoy and relax. Whether spending time with friends, family, and colleagues, reading or playing sports for leisure or pleasure, encourage patients to get back to doing what makes them feel good.
• Stand while working. Sitting for extended periods of time is linked with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. If your patient works in an office environment, suggest they partake in at least 30 minutes of activity each day, walk or go to the gym to counteract the sedentary effects of working in an office environment. If practical or available, suggest they invest in an adjustable standing-desk to break up long bouts of sitting.
• Stretch before assertive exercise. Men should stretch before any physical activity to reduce risk of injury, prevent sore muscles and improve performance.
It’s time that we have a frank conversation with men about their health. It’s necessary to take the time away from work, family, or other responsibilities to seek out preventative care or pain care. Notions surrounding what it means to be masculine should not interfere with seeking medical care or sentence one to endure pain or neglect their well-being.
All patients want to live their best lives and men are no exception. They can do so by prioritizing their health so they have more time to do what they love with those that they love.
John Reel, MPAS, PA-C, worked in family medicine for over 10 years and currently works as an occupational medicine PA for Wellspan Health System in Ephrata, Pa.. Outside work, Reel volunteers at a local walk-up clinic, soup kitchens and food banks. He also teaches ACLS, BLS, ergonomic training, CPR, ROM strengthening and wellness seminars.
This blog was written in cooperation with the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.