Last week, I had my first appointment with a gynecologist in France. It’s recommended to have a Pap smear every three years and I was at the 3.5-year mark, so I sucked it up, made my appointment a couple of months ago and was half-anxious/half-ready to get this over with last Tuesday morning. Why was I anxious? I was afraid I wouldn’t know all the words and I’d heard people’s horror stories about bad experiences with French gynecologists… but I figured it was time to form my own opinion and I’m happy to report back that it was way less scary than I had expected. So for any foreigners out there avoiding the ominous French gyno, you can put your fears to rest!
Here’s what my appointment at the French gynecologist was like…
Going to the French gynecologist
Please keep in mind this is just my experience with a French gynecologist and every doctor and office is going to be different. There are great (and terrible) doctors everywhere with their own ways of doing things.
Going to the doctor in France? Here’s what to expect >>
Several months ago, I looked at my options in town and made an appointment with the largest practice that’s affiliated with a nearby hospital. The doctors’ offices were all in a beautiful new building and that immediately put me at ease because everything was clearly labeled. The doctors’ names were on the doors and the waiting rooms were labeled — no guesswork!
Except I realized after I went directly to the waiting room that I was supposed to take a numbered ticket from the little machine upon entering the building, wait my turn, give my health insurance card and THEN go to the waiting room after getting checked in. Some doctors’ offices don’t have secretaries or anything and you do go directly to the waiting room. But a simple question cleared up any confusion and then I was on my way. Always ask if you’re not sure where to go!
Best part of the check-in portion? I found out the entire checkup would be free. The secu picks up most of the cost and apparently my mutuelle (supplementary insurance) pays the rest, which meant 0 out of pocket cost for me. I was already liking how this was going…
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My appointment was at 9:45 and at around 10, the doctor herself comes out of her office to call me in. The office had a desk, computer and a cloth partition with the examination area behind it. There’s no nurse or anything like that, and the doctor goes over your medical history herself, takes your blood pressure, etc.
She started off asking what brought me in and I said I was there for a regular wellness checkup. She asked about my health, if I smoke, my family’s health history and other basic questions. I was waiting for her to ask for the date of my last period, my sexual history, if I was married, etc. but the personal questions I was used to from back home never came.
Now for my biggest language OOPS moment in quite a while.
Because a visit to the doctor isn’t complete without me embarrassing myself.
The doctor and I were talking about side effects of vaccines and medications, and at one point I mentioned fears and how some people are scared of needles and everyone has a fear of something — maybe terrorists or flying or even being scared of the dark. On that last one, the doctor looked right at me a little surprised with a, “Ah bon??”
And I said absolutely, especially for children the dark can be frightening and they’re scared monsters are going to attack them from under the bed.
She looked horrified, kind of like a scared child hiding from a monster. I thought she was impressed with my impeccable French language skills… but nope, that wasn’t it. That’s when I realized my major language flub.
Instead of saying a fear of the dark, I had said a “fear of black people.” She thought I was a raging racist until I clarified and corrected my mistake. For the record, afraid of the dark is avoir peur du noir but if you say avoir peur des noirs (or don’t clearly enunciate between du/des), you’re talking about people. I’m still mortified.
It was time for the exam. She then had me go over to the partitioned area where she asked me to undress. I’d heard from other foreigners in France that the doctor doesn’t leave the room and that you’re not given a gown. True on both counts.
The doctor stayed on the other side of the partition though and let me get undressed alone. No gown was offered and while I was on the exam chair, there was nothing covering me. She proceeded with the exam, all normal stuff and told me that I’d be contacted only if I had irregular test results.
After, she gave me a prescription for a medication I take and another paper for routine blood work at the lab since it’s been a while since I’ve had my cholesterol checked. And that was it!
Easy, painless and I was comfortable the whole time. She wasn’t rushed (French doctors, in my experience, seem to spend a good amount of time with each patient and don’t just pop in for 2 minutes and rush to the next person. Part of the reason why they’re often late) and was happy to answer questions.
So for the short version, here’s how visiting in gynecologist in France is different from the US:
(again keep in mind this is my experience and yours might be different)
–The doctor will come get you from the waiting room herself, greet you with a handshake and get all your info for the computer. There’s no nurse to do this part.
–There’s also no nurse in the exam room with you. In the US, there’s always a second person to deter lawsuits and act as a witness to the exam. In France, lawsuits aren’t a thing so it’s just you and the doc.
–Fewer personal questions. Maybe this was just my doc’s style or because I’m married but there were no questions about sexual history or anything else one might consider intrusive.
–The French gynecologist doesn’t leave the room while you undress (in my experience). She may go back to her desk or stay there with you. You’re also not usually given a gown or cover.
–The cost is minimal or nonexistent and is the best part of going to the doctor in France.
Everything was over in 15 minutes and the best part was that I didn’t pay a centime! So if you’ve been putting off your gyno appointment in France for fear of the unknown, don’t put it off any longer! The French gynecologist is nothing to worry about.
I had the same experience but reverse, being French and going to the doctor in the US.
The fact that they give you a gown here in the US is probably what surprised me the most, the doctor does see you naked at some point anyway… and that you have an exam room separate from the doctor’s office, and that it isn’t the doctor him/herself taking your blood pressure etc.
Well, I think the gown is about one’s comfort level and making sure the patient isn’t feeling exposed all at once in front of a stranger. It’s like when you get a massage. You’re naked but you’re under a sheet and the masseuse only exposes the body part she (or he) is working on instead of just having you lie there butt naked and feeling exposed. It just comes down to what one is comfortable with and what’s “normal” in their experience. In the US, there’s always a gown and always a second person in the room. Just a cultural difference. 😉
In the U.S., I’ve never had another person present during the exam, just the doctor (but in Spain, yes).
That’s odd.What state & city in the U.S.?
I love medecine in France…. I an a little bit afraid to go to a doctor in the US… As you said the process is not the same one! And I’m afraid about the cost at the end of the visit…
Hi Karine, the important thing is to know what your plan does or does not cover ahead of time so there are no surprises. If your plan needs you to choose a doctor in network then make sure the doc you choose is in the list of accepted doctors so you don’t get a bill and have to pay out of pocket. Also, an exam is usually reasonable but if they do addition testing or bloodwork, it can affect the price so always check with your US insurance plan ahead of time. I had a good plan in the US and my share of a specialist visit was US$40 and routine preventive care was covered 100%. But all plans are different and I know they’re often confusing.
Afraid of the black, hahahaa! Hilarious. So, the one big thing that caught my attention in this story was that the pap smear is recommended every three years in France. In the US, it was yearly and here in Australia, every two years.
Hi Cosette, the 3-year thing was a surprise to me too. I found out the CDC’s recommendation on frequency in the US changed in 2012 to once every three years for women between 21 and 65 who have normal Pap smear results. You can read more here:
Cathy Henton says
All good experiences here apart from my first visit to a Gyne who took a telephone call in the middle of an exam!! Was a bit shocked to find myself naked but as no-one seems to think its a big deal here got over it pretty quickly. Also surprised that there is no-one else present and my gyne is a man. However, what is amazing is that my Gyne is a top surgeon and I am frankly staggered that he has the time to see people like me who do not have major problems. He does everything himself from taking my blood pressure weighing me(aargh) and all else in between! It’s very reassuring and he is never in a rush ( always running very very late though I guess that’s why). Have absolutely no complaints about the health service here.
Excellent to hear, Cathy! I’ve had great experiences overall as well. It is different that there’s no witness during exams but just a cultural difference I guess.
Melissa Bauernfeind says
It’s funny that you say the doctors in France like to spend time with their patients & it took you only 15 minutes. I don’t like going to my gyno because the wait time alone can be 2 hours (just in the waiting room), & once in the exam room I wait another hour. It’s insane & frustrating. I know my doc likes to spend time with his patients but it’s a bit much. (They double & triple book). I like the gown (I am always cold, I’d take a blanket if I could).
Hi, just to clarify about the time thing: In general French doctors are very thorough and whenever I’ve had a medical issue, my regular doctor takes his time and goes over everything. I’ve been in his office for 45 minutes while he checks everything. But for a routine wellness visit at the gynecologist — for a child-free woman who’s not looking to get pregnant and doesn’t have any health issues, knock on wood — it was very quick. Now if I had a lot of questions and concerns, I know she would have answered everything. But the length of the visit was on me because there wasn’t anything special that I had to talk to her about. Sorry for any confusion!
Very funny! This is really probably TMI and I don’t know if you plan on having children, but I’m sure you have already heard about all of those post birth pelvic floor exercise appointments with the midwife. Its actually really progressive of the French to do this, but you can imagine how shocking it is when your not used to it and having your midwife manually tell you to imagine two elevator doors closing shut so you do your kegels for 30 mins post birth for 10 weeks. But I am sure later in life when I am a granny without urinary incontinence I will be thankful 😉 Hilarious life experience though that I love telling and seeing the mouth-open expression from my American and British friends back home.
Taha el gohary says
Please need to know the full information about that doctor for my wife, name , address , phone number. Thanks in advance
Veronica Marks says
I’m always so interested to hear about experiences like this in other countries! It’s interesting that the doctor doesn’t leave while you undress. However, I might actually prefer that here in the US because sometimes they take so long just to come back into the room that I sit there, undressed, for what seems like forever! Thanks for sharing your experience!
Angela Waterford says
I really appreciate your comparison of the differences between gynecologist visits in the two countries. It’s very interesting that the doctor comes to get you from the waiting room instead of a nurse. It seems like that would take a lot more time for the doctors, but also like it probably gives them more interaction with their patients.
Thanks for checking out the post. I think in many cases, doctors aren’t part of a big practice and some don’t even have a full-time secretary. This keeps costs down and also allows the doctor to make interaction more personal.
The doctor came to get me from the waiting room, and after two other issues I mentioned a gynae problem which she helped me with and as due for a smear she did it there and then. I was surprised she fixed up padded leg supports which took a while and I hitched up my dress and she was so gentle and explanatory. She used gel too which the nurse refused to use last time in the UK. So, in the UK it was a quick open legs, shove it in painful experience whereas in France my GP made it a caring gentle painless test. I had to pay for the consultation, and the test, 36 euros I think, and take the package myself to the postbox. My GP is great.
Gwyneth Perrier says
That was very informative! I’m glad to read about the language mix-up. It was funny to read, but that would be a very easy one to make – yikes!
Thanks for the info. I need to book an appointment (routine checkup asap) so do I go first to the doctor I’m registered with or directly to a gynaecologist? I’m confused!
Hi Emma, for a regular checkup (and not something your GP is referring you for), you should be able to just call an ob/gyn in your area and make an appt directly. But best to call first just to make sure that’s the case in your area. Also, don’t wait too long. Sometimes wait times for appts can be long. Good luck!
I wish more doctors ditched the nurse/assistant! Their looming presence creeps me out and makes me feel terribly shy and nervous. But I’d much prefer the separate exam room and cover up like in the US.
Hi, So happy I came over your blog. I live in the Loire Valley too, and I need to get my gyn test done to. I usally go back to Norway to do it, but it is s bit of a hustle. Can I ask where you did it? Maybe I’ll go there if it’s not too far away. Best regards Jessica
Hi, any GP can do a Pap smear. My gynecologist is at my local hospital in Angers.
Oh ok, I was thinking of going into Angers. I only live 35 minutes away. Chu Angers I was thinking. I will try to make an appointment Monday 🙂 thank you
No gown?! In Spain and the U.S. they do. It’s psychological; I don’t want to see some stranger’s head buried in my crotch. The whole procedure is barbaric and demeaning enough as it is (not to mention blood & urine tests are also found to be as accurate at detecting cancer).
Also, these robes in general (regardless of the procedure) are so that the patient can retain a shred of dignity and not feel like s/he is being laid out like a slab of meat.
Corrine Tartar says
In the US a nurse is only present if the doctor is male, in fact I think it’s a law. Which I think is good to make patients feel safe. In Paris there is a famous case/controversy of a renowned sought after male OBGYN who went on for decades violating patients, mostly pregnant, unchecked because people simply didn’t believe these women’s stories. A lot of them didn’t even know where to go to report this, in fact it was a journalist who first reported on it and then it got national attention. This is a huge issue, I think, because in France when you want to report a doctor for misconduct, there is really no official regulatory body in the French administration/government. I know because I had a doctor I needed to report and it seemed there is no government oversight or agency to report my incident to and with lack of lawsuits I know the hospital could care less. That was my only option was to write them a letter, and you know with how the French are it would be unread or thrown out immediately after, if it even was read. I had a doctor physically grab me and try to drag me into an exam room, after telling me to stop asking questions when I simply wanted to know if students would be attending, as I was having a biopsy of my cervix. It was a really old woman, and she told me I would be free by letting others see my vagina and it was my prudish American views or maybe my “controlling” husband, none of which were true and frankly is offensive to push off someone’s feelings due to their country of origin. I have my own private reasons for not wanting a room full of strangers seeing me naked and it should be respected. I had to yell at her to get her to take her hands off me. I already have anxiety issues and I was on the verge of a panic attack; never had a doctor put hands on me like that. Needless to say I switched to an OBGYN at the American hospital in Paris, it’s so expensive but worth my piece of mind and you get a gown, so you don’t feel like an animal on the exam table/don’t freeze. Also side note I despise how French culture/attitude tries to force women into doing things, under the false guise of “you’re liberated”, like with telling women what to wear or to have babies. I honestly thought healthcare would be better in France, but it’s the difference between Molina clinics/cheap state clinics and private insurance. I’ve always had private insurance and very high quality, due to my dad working in a union and having a bank job in the US. Now I pay 125€ every 3 years to the American Hospital for peace of mind and the respect I deserve as a patient.
Thank you for the info. As if a man would want to be bent over and have a room full of strangers looking at his orifice while it’s being poked and prodded (as if men would ever tolerate that). The longer I’m here in France, the more backwards I realize it is. Unfortunately, women internalize and perpetuate misogyny as much, or almost as much, as men do.