These physicians at Orlando Health are unique in their specialty
Everybody has a heart. Everybody has lungs. Everybody has a digestive tract and nervous system. We have these things regardless of whether we are male or female. Everybody also has a urinary tract, but because that system is interrelated with our reproductive systems, there has traditionally been a divergence in the genders of the physicians in these practice areas: Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) for women and Urology for men.
Now, if you accept the proposition that patients generally prefer to be treated by a member of their own gender, especially when it comes to matters relating to their reproductive system or sexuality, it probably makes sense that more than 80 percent of OB/GYN’s are women. After all, obstetrics and gynecology deal with bodily systems that are uniquely female. But if that’s true, why is urology so dominated by male physicians?
According to the latest census by the American Urological Association, only nine percent of urologists are women. And yet, as Jacqueline Hamilton, MD, of Orlando Health Medical Group is quick to point out, “Women and children also have urological issues; anyone who has a urinary tract can have issues.”
So, while that statistic might look like a hurdle for some doctors to overcome, it has become an inspiration and an opportunity for Dr. Hamilton and three other urologists at Orlando Health who are the only women urologists in Orlando.
Dr. Hamilton, who has been in practice for 22 years, the longest in the group, said it’s about time that attention turns to women in this profession, hoping that it will help inspire more women in medical school to consider urology.
Dr. Hamilton was drawn into medicine by her father who was a general surgeon. From the time she was a little girl, she spent hours in his office. By the time she was a pre-med student in in college she was allowed to scrub in to watch her father perform surgical procedures during breaks from school.
She knew she wanted to be a surgeon, but it wasn’t until a woman urologist gave a presentation at Howard University College of Medicine that she knew urology was the field for her. “I pulled her aside after her lecture and asked her about women in urology and what her practice was like. And she allowed me to come in and shadow her, and that was eye-opening. I decided then that urology was the career I wanted to pursue.”
Years later, Dr. Hamilton had the opportunity to reprise her own experience. At a urology conference, she met Esther Han, another urologist sub-specializing in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery.
How small the number of women in urology is really obvious at professional conferences, said Dr. Han. “I joke that when you go to a Urology conference, there’s never a line outside the women’s restroom.” So, while the prospect of living in Orlando’s sunny climate was very enticing, the opportunity to work in a health care system with other women urologists really helped seal the deal for Dr. Han.
“Women have issues that urology can specifically treat,” said Dr. Han. “Gynecologists and primary care physicians treat reoccurring urinary tract infections to some degree, but you may need a urologist for voiding issues, incontinence surgeries, kidney stones and the like.”
One of the elements of urology that Dr. Han especially likes is its blend of surgery and “a lot of medicine in the more traditional sense. It’s a good balance of both. There are not a lot of emergency issues,” she said. “But helping patients improve their quality of life can really make a huge difference.”
Making a difference in people’s lives drew Nahomy Calixte, MD, into the practice. She’s part of the PUR group at Orlando Health South Lake Hospital. She had grown up in the Caribbean and was inspired to become a doctor by reading about the medical heroics of Doctors Without Borders, the international organization that sends physicians to trouble spots around the globe. With the support of her male and female mentors the idea of becoming a doctor to help others, which seemed a dream, became a reality.
During her rotations in medical school at Boston University, Dr. Calixte discovered that many urologists were able to overcome the awkwardness of their interactions with patients through gentle humor and that was one of the aspects of the field that she found appealing. And since most of her patients are men, the ability to make light of what might otherwise be embarrassing, helps a great deal.
This area of practice also enables her to indulge in her original passions, traveling the world to provide medical care and helping those who are without the financial or family support structures. For example, several years ago, she was in Mongolia with International Volunteers in Urology.
The fourth woman urologist in the Orlando Health system came to the United States from Albania with her parents when she was a child. Ruth Strakosha, MD, often served as a translator for her family members, including her grandfather when he needed to visit a urologist. That doctor, David Jablonski, MD, would go on to lead the Medical Group in which she is now a urologist, herself.
Dr. Strakosha says this is an exciting time to be a woman in urology. “It’s exciting because I see more and more women in the field. When I started in this field there weren’t many women at all, but now there are more every day.” The lack of role models can be a challenge, she said, but emphasized the support she has gotten from mentors and teachers regardless of their gender.
In fact, that’s a point each of these women took pains to note. The field of urology is the least gender-diverse specialty in modern medicine, but it is also a deeply collaborative and collegial profession where excellence matters more than one’s sex.