Guide to the Gynecologist

Going to a gynecologist for the first time can be an intimidating experience for many people, particularly those who haven’t talked to anyone they trust about their fears or concerns. Understanding what to expect from your first visit can ease your worries and make you feel more confident about taking control of your health. In this blog post, we’ll discuss common concerns people have before their first gynecology appointment and provide tips to help you prepare for a successful visit.

What do the letters after my provider’s name mean?

An OB/GYN stands for obstetrician-gynecologist, an APRN or NP is short for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse or Nurse Practitioner, a PA stands for Physician Assistant, and a CNM means Certified Nurse Midwife. But don’t worry too much about what letters they have after their name; they’re all experts in women’s health, and are there to help you with everything from hormone and  periods to pregnancy and beyond.

When should I see a Gynecologist?

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends that young women have their first visit with a Women’s Health Provider between the ages of 13 and 15 or when sexually active. Generally, unless a problem needs addressing (such as abnormal bleeding) most adolescents and teens will not need to have a pelvic exam. This helpful handout lists 21 reasons to see a gynecologist before you turn 21.

What should you expect at your first visit?

During your first visit, your doctor will want to get to know you better. They may ask personal questions about your family history, menstrual cycle (periods), sexual activity, etc. It’s important to answer all questions honestly so they can best know how to care for you. Even though it may feel intimidating to answer these questions, you should have complete confidence that what you say is kept confidential. These conversations help your provider to make safer and better recommendations for your health. You should also ask any questions and express all concerns you have.

Depending on your concerns and age, your first visit may include a general physical, an external genital exam, a breast exam, a discussion of the HPV vaccination, and an internal pelvic exam if you urgently have abnormal symptoms or need STI testing. 

But if you’re uncomfortable with any of these exams, you can say so; it’s totally up to you and your comfort level. You can also request having a friend or relative in the room if it helps you feel more at ease. Often, these first visits are simply a time to get to know your healthcare provider and to find out what to expect in the future.

Some possible concerns you would want to discuss with a Women’s Health Provider are:

painful periods

irregular periods


birth control

sexually transmitted infections

breast health, any alarming bumps, swelling, discomfort, etc.


Do not feel embarrassed about bringing up any of these personal issues – it’s their job to help you! They understand that the experience can be nerve-wracking and will do their best to make you feel as comfortable and at ease as possible.

What is a Pap test? 

A Pap test, formally known as a cervical smear or Pap smear, is a lab test used to detect abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus, that opens into the vagina. During a Pap test, your women’s health provider will insert a speculum into the vagina to collect cells from the cervix using a small brush (that looks almost like a mascara brush) or spatula and then will send them off to a lab to check under a microscope for any abnormalities. The Pap test should not be painful, but it might be slightly uncomfortable while the speculum swabs the cervix. Pap tests are essential for screening for HPV (human papillomavirus), early detection of cervical cancer, and other abnormalities that can lead to cancer. Additional swabs or urine samples can also be taken to test for other sexually transmitted infections. Let your provider know if you have concerns or want additional screenings. Regular screening can help detect and treat conditions before they progress and become more serious.

It’s important to note that the frequency of Pap tests will be based on your results and your provider’s recommendations.

Do I need a Pap test?

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), getting your first Pap test is only recommended once you are 21. However, you should still see a women’s health provider before then. You can reference this helpful handout we mentioned above for 21 reasons to see a gynecologist before you turn 21.

A gynecologist visit is solely about you and your health. Be assertive with your concerns, and make sure you ask any questions you may have.

We’ve created a printable resource guide for you to use at your appointments because we know how important it is to feel confident and prepared to take charge of your health.



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