Three of 11 OB-GYNs in Mercy Medical Center's department of obstetrics and gynecology are men, according to Dr. Robert Atlas, the department chair. One affiliated practice employs four female OB-GYNs.

And there is only one man among 28 residents in a program Atlas manages with the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"Look at the physicians going into obstetrics and gynecology," he said. "Even if we wanted to bring in a man, it would sometimes be hard to find someone to fit the bill. … But I don't think patients mind seeing me, as a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine. I've built relationships and try to be sensitive to patient needs — their religion, for example."

Traci Kodeck, a Pikesville mother, is one of Atlas' patients and said her complex medical history made finding the right doctor important.

She said she never gave a second thought to the fact that he was male.

"Actually, my original [OB-GYN] when I moved back to Baltimore was female and I disliked her bedside manner and how she stifled my questions," she said. "I am in public health, so maybe knew too much for my own good. [Atlas] never felt any question was too silly or stupid and was always willing to hear my concerns and fears. With four miscarriages, they were daily questions."

Still, other Baltimore area women do prefer a female doctor.

"I have always preferred female [OB-GYNs]," Laura Gaines Mott said. "I actually went with midwives for my birth — again, all women. When it came down to the actual event, I don't think I'd care if it were a male or female, but for basic office visits I'm more comfortable with women."

And others say their views are evolving.

"I see a female OB-GYN and love her, and never considered a male practitioner because I wanted to be able to talk to someone who had 'been there' regarding issues of breast feeding, physical changes during pregnancy, etc.," said Clare M. Bever of Baltimore. "However, my female OB was on a well-deserved vacation when I had my second baby — he came a week early — and her male colleague did the delivery. I really liked him and now recommend them both to friends who are looking for physicians, in case there is a preference for a male or female doctor."

St. Agnes officials said Wheatley, the Florida nurse, never applied for a position at the hospital. Wheatley said no one at the hospital would return his calls about a position.

It's not Wheatley's first complaint against a hospital on such grounds. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in Florida found valid a complaint he made against a Miami hospital in 1994 for refusing to consider hiring him for work on an OB-GYN unit because he was male. Maryland officials said they only confirm that investigations exist if a suit is filed.

Though his nurse's license remains valid, Wheatley said he has retired from nursing and runs a small charity for the poor in the Philippines.