A Visit to a Malaysian Doctor

On Thursday we visited Badan Warisan Malaysia, a non-governmental organization focused on the preservation and conservation of Malaysia’s heritage. At Badan Warisan Malaysia we toured a traditional Malay house. Although I greatly enjoyed learning about the history of this Malaysian house, I did not enjoy the Mosquitoes. I ended up getting large Mosquito bites on my legs and since I had a sore throat as well, I decided to visit a doctor here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While visiting the doctor in a Malaysian emergency room felt very similar to visiting a doctor in an American emergency room, one aspect of my visit was noticeably different: gender relations.

Malaysia is a very diverse country with many races, ethnicities, and religions and the hospital waiting room was no different. In the waiting room were a few men, one of which seemed to be a student, two little boys, three Muslim women, and myself. As I was the last person to arrive in the waiting room I sat and watched the men enter in to the exam room with either the male or female doctors, the three Muslim women only entered into the exam room with a Muslim female doctor. After my visit, I came to the realization that Muslim women in Malaysia only received medical examinations from other female doctors, unlike Malaysian men signifying a significant gender difference in healthcare in Malaysia. The interaction I was about to have with the doctor would only strengthen my observations.

A nurse then called me into the male doctor’s room. Once I entered the room, the doctor remained on the opposite side of the room while he questioned me about my symptoms. After explaining my bug bites, he asked to see them but he never came within an arm’s length to me and only looked at my bites from a distance. In the United States, I feel as if the doctor would have at least touched by bites, just with gloves on. Also, when I showed the doctor the backs of my legs, he didn’t want to look for more than a few seconds. I also stated that I had a sore throat and I wondered if it could be related to my reaction to the Mosquitoes. When he looked into my throat he stood just far enough away that he could remain an arms length away while holding a wooden stick every so slightly to the end of my tongue. Although I trust doctors very much, I wonder if he was able to get a good enough look into my throat at such a far distance? Finally, while the doctor was assessing my bug bites and my throat, a female nurse remained in another corner of the room just observing the interaction between the doctor and I.

These are just a few observations however they exemplified to me just how different gender relations between doctors and patients are here in Malaysia compared to the United States. I am sure that a male doctor in the United States would have approached me much further to take a look at my bug bites and my throat. I almost wonder that if I had asked to see the female doctor, would I have received a better examination or different advice? Would it have been more appropriate for me to see the female doctor? In what ways would an experience at a Malaysian doctors office would have been different if I had seen the female doctor? Why did the nursing staff choose to send me to the male doctor? Was my doctors office visit more affected by the fact that the doctor was a man or that he was a religious man and his religion may have deterred him from the examination process? These are only questions I can hypothesize about right now, but my experiences at a Malaysian doctors office certainly differed from a visit to Pitt Student Health.

Oh and by the way Mom, my bug bites are ok and my strep throat antibiotics are beginning to work so you can stop worrying!

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