“Jake, the first ever Male Pelvic Floor course is coming here in Seattle. If you take it, you could see the men and reduce my three-month wait for new male and female pelvic floor patients.” This was the prompt from my dear friend Tina Allen, PT, in 2008—and that is the short answer to “How did you get into treating the pelvic floor?”
I took that course, and my fear of both performing and receiving a rectal examination was quickly replaced by recognition of how necessary well-trained therapists are in the United States.
I was one of only two male course attendees. Nearly all of the female attendees were there because they had been involved in women’s health and had begun having men referred to them. Physicians didn’t know where else to send male patients with pelvic floor dysfunction.
I then took the second of a three-course women’s health series and was the sole male. When I walked into the classroom the first morning, I felt an icy chill spread through the room. All of the women’s heads turned toward me, and I suddenly felt out of place and unwelcome. Fortunately, the co-instructors began with introductions, and when it was my turn, one of them quickly announced how lucky the class was to have me, both to have a male perspective and a prostate to palpate if they could have me as a lab partner at some point during the weekend. The ice melted, and I felt the room relax. The rest of the course went swimmingly.
Seattle has many talented pelvic floor therapists, but I was happy to be available to men who really wanted a male therapist.
In 2014, I stepped away from the clinic for one year after the birth of my first son. I then hoped to continue my primary role as a stay-at-home dad but wanted to maintain my license and resume helping men who preferred a male therapist. My boss let me return half a day each week just to see male pelvic floor patients, but while this arrangement worked well, our local, family-owned company was purchased by a large national organization. Simultaneously, I was approached by Holly Tanner to join her new cash-practice pelvic floor clinic. I couldn’t say no; it allowed even more flexibility for me to continue as primary caregiver to my children.
My gender still raises the occasional eyebrows when I explain my specialty to other PTs or students, but that is changing. While lab assisting at male pelvic floor courses during the past two years, I’ve been encouraged to see four to six male PTs attending each one.
We need them. The profession, scope and scale of our patients are growing, and the many waitlists at pelvic floor facilities are often long. Patients—male, female, transgender or otherwise identifying—are hearing about what we can do for them. Let’s make sure all education for pelvic health professionals and students is as welcoming and inclusive as possible.
AUTHOR: Jake Bartholomy, PT, DPT, is a pelvic health therapist in Seattle, Wash. He can be reached at [email protected].