Pelvic exams, Pap smears, STD testing: It's all pretty much the same thing, right? Or is it?

Almost every day, I encounter patients who tell me their last Pap smear was done while they were in the emergency room. This is almost never true, and a quick check of the patient's electronic medical record will confirm there was no Pap smear collected at the time she thought one was done. Why are so many patients making this mistake?

There is some misunderstanding about what happens during a routine pelvic exam, what kind of testing can be performed and when. I see this frequently in my practice, so I'd love to set the record straight. The more you know, the more you can take charge of your own health.

What is a pelvic exam?

Let's start with what is actually going on during a pelvic exam and what you can expect. A pelvic exam is just that—an exam. It allows your healthcare provider to evaluate your reproductive organs and generally consists of three parts.

External exam

This is the part you usually won't even notice. We are