Pap or Annual Exam? Why Women Need to Know the Difference

By Sarieah Macdonald, MN, NMNP, CNM

You may have gone to a women’s health care provider recently and heard some startling news: “Your Pap was fine and now you don’t need to have an annual for several years.”  There’s some good news to this announcement (read more about PAP exams here) and then there’s a part of that statement that, I believe, actually sells a woman’s health short. I am here to say, your reproductive health is MORE than a Pap exam and your annual visit should be, too!

Certainly, it is true that the new national guidelines on Pap smears/exams have changed how we think about and treat cervical cancer, caused by HPV (the human papillomavirus).   However, how women are hearing about these changes and incorporating them into their ongoing health care, concerns me.

In my practice I believe EVERY woman should have at least an annual wellness exam with a women’s healthcare specialist to discuss- if nothing more- the unique health concerns associated with being a woman.

Regardless of if you need a pap exam or not, you deserve to have access to a health care provider that specializes in the special health needs associated with being a woman. You are entitled to an ‘Annual Wellness Visit’- so much more than a Pap exam (and you may even be able to stay dressed)!

As women, where else do we have access to a trained specialist on women’s health issues, if not at the very least at an annual exam?

When a woman is told she ‘doesn’t need a pap for several years and therefore doesn’t need to come in’ to see her provider, I believe she is losing valuable access to someone known and trusted.

As a provider who listens and understands all about hormone changes, menstrual cycles, pregnancy and/or contraception issues,  sexual function/dysfunction/ concerns, pain, discharges, perimenopausal symptoms, sexual satisfaction, and relationships, I take the time to get to know you.

I do that- in part, because I believe relationships matter, and in part because I know that all women need someone knowledgeable to talk with.

I believe it is a tragedy of our healthcare system that women’s healthcare has been reduced to an annual single visit, for a single purpose- now reduced further for some women.

Largely gone from the system has been a safe, trusted resource to discuss health, sexuality and relationships with women-for women- as their bodies, their lives, and their needs change.

I hope to change that. So, pap or no pap- schedule a visit today!

For more information check out these resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic information about hpv-associated cancers.  Last updated Sept. 5, 2013. Retrieved from

Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Last updated Sept. 24,2013. Retrieved from: