Women’s Health Issues + Dr. Florence John Q and A

Lack of resources, poor diagnoses and unequal care cause medical issues

 

The issue of women’s health is an endlessly complex and controversial topic. For centuries, it has been argued upon and disagreed upon, but it has mostly been completely neglected. It seems as though society is curious only with the outside appearance of the female body, not the labyrinth of the inside. As teenage girls grow into adulthood, it is important to be aware of the possible struggles one might face.

 

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“When I’m on my period, I am forced to lie in the fetal position on my bed until the pain goes away,” said an anonymous junior. “I can’t stand up, I can’t do homework. All I do is cry. I don’t think that is normal.”

The issue of women’s health is an endlessly complex and controversial topic. Even since the beginning of humanity, it has not only been argued upon and disagreed upon, but it has mostly been completely neglected. It seems as though society is curious only with the outside appearance of the female body, not the labyrinth of the inside. As teenage girls grow into adulthood, it is important to be aware of the possible struggles one might face.

“I feel like the real issue with women’s health right now is that more simple diagnoses are immediately connected to very specific menstruation related problems,” said junior Siri Davidson. “And when women actually have a menstruation related problem it is diagnosed as something too simple.”

In modern medicine, women with issues ranging from endometriosis to food allergies are immediately prescribed birth control as a way to subdue extreme pain and bleeding. However, these problems often have much more severe underlying issues tied to them.

In the case of women going through menopause, they experience heat flashes, insomnia, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, muscle loss and even Alzheimer’s/dementia. These difficulties experienced by nearly every woman are often very avoidable if caught earlier in life.

Although it seems rare to experience or even hear about medical mishaps, they actually happen all the time. Studies show that they occur far more often to women than men.

When having a heart attack, women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed. When having a stroke the number slightly decreases to a 33% chance of misdiagnoses.

When women do not receive proper medical care, consequences can be devastating and fatal.

Many experts say that there are several main reasons as to why women are more likely to suffer misdiagnosis than men. Sometimes, women’s medical concerns are ignored and even considered “complaining”. Major health concerns are also dismissed as a side-effect of obesity, which can be mentally and physically painful for many women.

Throughout medical history, women have often received the short end of the stick. In Ancient Greece, women were believed to have had a “wandering uterus”. No matter what pain was experienced, it was all caused by the uterus. This led to the origin of words such as “hysterical” and “hysteria”. Rooted in the word “hyster”, they all relate to the uterus. 19th century doctors used these terms to dismiss women’s discomfort.

As unrealistic and unscientific as these ideas sound, they still run rampant in diagnoses.

Currently, although there have been many diversifying improvements to the field of medicine, the standard patient model is the average male. Causing many misdiagnoses to take place when the disease or illness is unique to women. Some of these illnesses include endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. Both of which are described as excruciating and debilitating.

Such illnesses can include polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. While you might think that women would receive a prompt diagnosis for sex-specific conditions, the reality is that many women get brushed off by their doctors as complaining, imagining or exaggerating their symptoms. Oftentimes symptoms are brushed off as irritable bowel syndrome or hormone imbalance.

“I always say, if you’re questioning your diagnosis, whether you’re 16 or 70, always get a second opinion,” said Florence John, Director of Rehabilitation Medicine Cancer Program, University of Minnesota. “It’s a right everyone has and should take advantage of.”

 

 

Q and A: Dr. Florence John

As the Director of Rehabilitation Medicine Cancer Program at the University of Minnesota, John is a highly influential woman in the medical field — and a Minnehaha parent. The Talon spoke with John about her career path and advice for young women.

 

Talon: Can you introduce yourself and your career path?

John: I have a very different career path. From my high school days, I knew I wanted to become a doctor. I did my undergrad, and eventually med school and was on the path to practice as a woman physician. However, as with a lot of different things in life, sometimes, our paths vary from what we originally planned.
When I was in my final year of medical school, I got married to my husband, which was a wonderful event in my life. And then, shortly after that, I was expecting my first child. And then a year after that, I was expecting my second child. And so I had to make a very difficult decision: do a medical residency in the United States or take time off and be a mom to both my kids who were really small, and still babies at that time.

I decided to take a step back. Initially, I thought it would be a year or two, to help raise them. And it was a wonderful decision. Two years turned into about five or six years. Then my kids went to kindergarten and I decided that I wanted to get back in the ring. I wanted to go back, do a medical residency, and pursue my dream.

I went back to the University of Minnesota and did a master’s in public health, with a focus on global health. When I finished, I worked in clinical research in pediatric nephrology at the University of Minnesota, and also in the Department of Family Medicine at the U.
I developed a very strong interest in rehabilitation medicine. And decided I wanted to go into the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation, otherwise known as rehabilitation medicine.
I applied for and got into the physical medicine and rehabilitation residency at the university. It was a pretty grueling four years. very, very hard work, very long hours. I talked to my husband and kids about my decision to apply for a residency and they were all very supportive and on board. They knew I had put my career on hold for some time. I went back and did the residency and finished with a lot of great successes, which further propelled me into what I want to do.

When I was a resident physician, I really developed a keen interest in cancer patients. That interest continued throughout the last couple of years of my residency.
When I graduated, there was no one at the University of Minnesota in our department who was focused on cancer rehabilitation. So I talked with the head of our department there and said, ‘I would love to develop a practice of cancer rehabilitation and develop a program and cancer rehabilitation at the university. I feel that we could catch patients much earlier and help them remain much stronger as they go through their treatments.‘

I ended up coming on board at the university as faculty to start a cancer rehabilitation program at the U, which is really exciting and daunting at the same time. It’s starting something from the ground up, and you just hope and pray that it will succeed. I’ve been doing that for about one year now, and it has been a great journey.
I’ve developed a really good practice. I see patients with all types of cancers, so I only see cancer patients for rehab needs. The program allows me to work closely with a lot of our oncologists, surgeons, and physical, occupational, and speech therapists, who are really an integral part of a patient’s rehab journey. So it’s been great.

 

Talon: What’s your advice to young women who would like to go into the field of medicine?

John: I could probably talk forever about this. But, if I had to kind of just give it a couple of sentences or phrases, I would just say, first of all that the road to practicing medicine can be hard. We all know that.
Going through pre-med, going through med school, going through residency, and then possibly fellowships after residency is a long and arduous path. But if you have that internal drive, and you have that passion, even at a young age, you should just go for it.

It’s like striving to achieve any dream. Whether it be medicine or anything else in life, if you have that internal drive and passion for it, go for it, knowing that yes, the road may be long and arduous, but there are really wonderful rewards at the end of that road.

A lot of people can list out prestige and money and all those material things, in terms of why they wanted to go into the medical field. But really one of the largest rewards that I have felt as a physician has been seeing my patients get better improving their quality of life, seeing the smile on their face, even patients who have a terminal diagnosis or patients who are going to difficult treatments, to be able to make those personal connections and bring a smile to their face and see them walk when they’ve been in a wheelchair. For me that’s that’s the greatest joy.
And that’s why I do what I do. That’s why I went through that long, arduous road. Because I knew that that joy was going to be at the end. And so, the other advice I would give to young people, especially young women wanting to go into the field, is do it for the right reasons.

I said that there are these long lists of reasons that people say they want to go into medicine, but really do it for the humanistic reasons, do it for the reasons that will truly give you satisfaction in the end. Because if you do it for all of the other reasons, yes, you can definitely go for it and accomplish it. But you may not be happy in the end.
If you do it for the right reasons, that involve humanity and involve making connections with your patients, that’s what’s going to give you the best job satisfaction and career satisfaction.

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