2002-10-26 / Columnists

Health and Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles
Health and Harmony By Dr. Nancy Gahles Women, Wellness & The Transformation Of Health Care

By Dr. Nancy Gahles

Women, Wellness &
The Transformation
Of Health Care

Duke University Center for Integrative Medicine presented this conference on October 11-14, in Durham, North Carolina.

As I entered the auditorium, I fully expected Helen Reddy to burst out into song, "I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore"! There were over 200 women and the estrogen/progesterone balance was palpable. Approximately 40% were in their 30's and the balance of us were 40 and up. We were the ones laughing the loudest at all the menopause jokes, especially the ones referencing poor memory and concentration. The ratio of health care providers to consumers was almost equal. There was an abundance of mothers wanting to be on the cusp of transformation and willing to be an integral part of it all as lay persons and to take their children with them. Indeed, that was one of the pieces. Integration in health care. A healing partnership between doctor and patient where both parties work together to develop the best wellness plan for that individual.

Charles Hammond, M.D., President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology and a well respected leader in the area of women's health gave the opening keynote address. Dr. Hammond recounted the stories of healing through treating generations in his community. He emphasized the fact that health care is a profession, not a business. His vision of the transformation of health care was to return to a system where the doctor can see fewer patients and spend more time with each so that she/he truly knows you. " The return of the true professional who has time for you has been destroyed by the insurance companies", he said. Dr. Hammond expressed his dismay at the "disease care" system that is now in place, one wherein the insurance companies dictate how and when the doctors can diagnose and treat their patients and reimbursing them so little for procedures that the doctor can only spend 8-12 minutes per patient. He concluded by saying that change happens in communities where the emphasis is put on prevention and early treatment vs. diagnosis and treatment of disease and exhorted us all to join a group called "Positions for Women's Health."

Tracy Gaudet, M.D., Director of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine and Lifestyles Medical makeover expert for the "Oprah Winfrey Show", artfully put together this network of pioneers in women's health. Her vision for the transformation of women's health care was in the same genre as Dr. Hammond's. "We are on the brink of breakdown in medicine. Women come to health care in times of transitions. As an OB/GYN I can tell you that women drive the changes. The culture is ready for this, the transformation. I see it as a place where our system is not based on specific organ expertise but expands to a place of unknowing. We need to create a form where the energies of creative potential can exist in communities." The Duke Center For Integrative Medicine Clinic sets the tone for this creative potential. As their Philosophy statement notes, "You will be listened to and treated with respectful consideration as a partner in the creation of your health plan..." The only lament is that foreshadowed by Dr. Hammond. "The challenges of sustaining our unique clinical services require that...we will no longer be participating in any health care insurance.." Which brings us back to the Transformation of Health Care.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., a visionary pioneer in women's health care spoke next. She is an OB/GYN who helps empower women to tune in to their inner wisdom and take charge of their health. She is the author of two wonderful books, "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom," and "The Wisdom of Menopause." Dr. Northrup's keynote was a call to health providers to recognize how women work in order to provide optimum care. Her emphasis was in recognizing and addressing the feminine emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being in the patient. I couldn't help but sense the futility in this obvious answer to optimizing the health status of women as there was a dearth of men at the convention and out of the 6 who were listed on the attendee list, one was a radiologist and one represented a pharmaceutical company. The unidentified others were probably spouses. There was not one OB/GYN, pediatrician or family practitioner present. It seems that the only way that the information about women's health issues will filter into the minds of the primary care people is through the Women's Health Initiative. Congressional caucuses on Women's Issues in 1990 led to the establishment of the Office of Research on Women's Health. In 1993 legislation was passed, the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, requiring the inclusion of women in clinical studies. Prior to that, clinical studies were conducted on males only. That was 9 years ago, ladies. I think we need to increase the volume on that roar!! As Vivian Pinn, M.D., the director of this office at NIH said, "Being in clinical studies is a volunteer activity, so we need to encourage women to participate in these studies." Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the number one killers of women. The present data is based on males. With more women living 30-40 years post-menopausally these diseases will be rampant, and fatal, unless we have more studies on women. Log onto the Women's Health Initiative website.

The remaining faculty consisted of some of the best and the brightest who deftly communicated their wisdom, the gist of which was that women are a force to be reckoned with. They are the keepers of the vigil. It appears that they will be the ones to transform health care as we demand a new and more inclusive paradigm. A health care system that supports individuality through the use of complementary and alternative modalities and one that stresses wellness and the quality of Life. Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., one of the leading experts on stress, spirituality and the mind/body connection led us in an exercise to identify your inner woman. A place to start to explore your inner landscape, identify the terrain and your wellness. She said, "Just start by saying, I am a woman...and keep writing from there." We should all do this. Mine went like this:

I am a woman weaving the fabric of my Life.

I am a woman untangling the silky threads that sometimes break off in the middle of spinning, then need to be re-created.

I am a woman who seeks the colors needed for vibrancy, the colors that shine and glimmer and make me laugh, make me feel alive and attractive.

I am a woman who weaves the tears of my losses. And the fears for my future into the dense background.

I am a woman who gathers the pieces

into a cloak in which I gather my family and hold them close, listening to each one's story and singing their song into the shimmering shawl.

I am a woman wearing the mantle of my Life, my Loves, my Losses, my Wholeness.

So the mantle of transformation rests upon every woman. Like I said to my daughter on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah, "To be a woman, it's not for the faint of heart...".

I invite all my women readers to e-mail me their "I am a woman" story for a collection that I am preparing. AskDr.Nancy@aol.com.

May the Bessings Be!

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