LIMA — For decades, the medical field was dominated by men. And while the number of women in medicine has increased exponentially in recent years, the area of proctology remains a man’s game.
Unless you’re Lima Memorial’s Dr. Shannon Wesley.
There are only four female proctologists in the entire country, and Wesley is one of two who are certified by the American Osteopathic Board of Proctology. She’s also the only board-certified female proctologist in Ohio, according to the AOBPr.
“The partners I work with are all guys, but I think we get along pretty well and they appreciate me,” Wesley said. “But as far as being a female proctologist in a male world, it can be hard.”
Wesley said while it’s been easier to be accepted by male doctors, patients sometimes have an issue being treated by a woman, especially in an area where most people are highly sensitive.
As a proctologist, Wesley’s main job is to perform colonoscopies. The procedure allows her to examine the rectum and colon using a flexible tube called a colonoscope. A colonoscopy helps find ulcers, polyps, tumors and areas of inflammation or bleeding.
Wesley said she’s had instances in the past where a man requested to be treated by a male doctor instead of her. Even when they allow her to treat them, most men are shocked to learn a woman will be performing their colonoscopy.
She said she’s only had one patient come close to refusing her treatment altogether.
“He was really upset with the fact that I was a female, and it took awhile for him to let me look,” Wesley said.
She said she had a long conversation with the man, explaining she understood where he was coming from while assuring him she had years of experience performing colonoscopies during her residency and at Lima Memorial.
“He ended up having the surgery he needed and it worked out just fine,” she said. “He hugs me every time he comes in the office now, and I’m even treating his family members.”
With the difficulties that come with being a female proctologist, one might wonder why Wesley chose this profession.
“My grandfather had colon cancer and he passed away when he was 48 years old,” she said. “So my goal was to try to figure out what I could do to prevent anyone else in my family from going through that.”
Wesley said she decided at age 15 to become a doctor so she could perform colonoscopies, though she wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it.
During her third year of medical school, Wesley said someone approached her and asked if she ever thought about proctology, which would allow her to perform colonoscopies while having a more normal lifestyle than colorectal surgeons who are often called in for emergency surgeries.
“There’s always that time in your head when you say, ‘Yep, that’s what I’m going to do,’” she said. “I did my first rotation and I knew that was it for me.”
Wesley said with every colonoscopy, she is honoring her grandfather’s life by diagnosing and helping prevent colon cancer in other people.
“I look back on some of the patients I’ve had, and there are people that would have probably ended up with colon cancer if they wouldn’t have had a colonoscopy,” she said. “It really does save lives, and if I can prevent [colon cancer], I think I’m doing the world justice.”
Before performing a colonoscopy, Wesley said it’s extremely important to make a patient feel comfortable with her. While a man might inherently feel more at ease with a male doctor, Wesley said being a woman has its advantages.
“I think we’re more sensitive to the situation because we understand having to get undressed to have an exam since we have babies, have screenings for pap smears, and all that stuff,” she said. “We can understand the way things go, and help the patient be more comfortable in a vulnerable situation.”
While the number of female proctologists remains low compared to other areas of the medical field, Wesley said it’s just a matter of time before she’s joined by dozens more.
“The more of us there are for women to look up to, the more there’s going to be,” she said. “Females are starting to take over the medical world, just one step at a time.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima