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headshots of Drs. Clark and Levy

Changing the narrative of women’s care

Experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch are changing the narrative by addressing disparities women face in health care and pioneering a pathway for female physicians.

UTMB's doctors strive to create awareness and change in their fields so the next generation of providers can take advantage of what was learned by those who came before them. In an academic medical center like UTMB, it is critical to have forward-looking experts, including those like Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Gal Levy, UTMB’s first female cardiothoracic surgeon.

"I provide cardiac surgery, thoracic surgery and foregut surgery. The cardiothoracic is comprehensive and covers the major aspects of general cardiac surgery, general thoracic surgery and general foregut surgery,” she said. “Those two things are unique to UTMB—having a comprehensive surgical practice as well as being the first woman cardiothoracic surgeon here.”

Three women in a row have been trained in cardiothoracic surgery by UTMB's fellowship program.

“We are pioneering that pathway for these young women to give them something to aspire to, something that they believe is a potential practice they can achieve. You have an academic institution [like UTMB] where you have so much variability rather than having to choose one direction or another,” Levy said.

 
But helping forge that path for the next round of female health care providers is just a part of what Levy does as a champion for gender equality.

Through ground-breaking clinical work, inspiring patient advocacy, passionate community awareness and thorough education and research, UTMB doctors like Levy are changing the industry and assisting women who face health disparities.

Levy’s expertise reigns heavy in the world of heart disease, so she’s dedicated much of her career to shedding light and awareness on the different ways women in particular experience that condition – from the symptoms they feel to the experiences they have when seeking a proper diagnosis.

“Women tend to downplay their symptoms a lot,” said Levy during a recent interview with digital news outlet i45Now where she described fainting, reflux and fatigue as some of the common signs of a heart health issue in women. “By the time women actually have a cardiovascular event, it’s maybe the third or fourth episode before it’s noticed in a hospital setting.”

To change that pattern and get ahead of these problems, Levy stresses that knowledge sharing, not just for the community, but also for primary care providers and throughout the medical profession is key to changing our understanding of how this disease manifests in women—a point she reiterated during that same recent i45Now interview.

“Awareness is where everything starts,” she said.

Similarly, Dr. Shannon Clark, a UTMB Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor, also has a passion and reputation for listening to women's health care needs, particularly as it relates to pain control for patients in labor or during routine gynecological office procedures.

“With intrauterine device or IUD insertion, colposcopy with cervical biopsy, and finally an endometrial biopsy, all of those procedures are considered office gynecological procedures,” said Clark. “What people are saying in the news media and on social media is that their pain control needs are not being met and that they are traumatized by the procedures or almost passed out."

In her current role, Clark no longer performs the gynecologic procedures herself, as she’s focused on obstetrics; however, she gained extensive experience performing them during her training and residency and her earlier years in practice, so she is aware of the status of the field in this area.

Clark said women receiving procedures should have pain-management options if needed.

“There is still a myth in the OB-GYN field that the cervix is not as sensitive to pain as other parts of the anatomy of a female. That perspective needs to change within our field,” Clark said. “Just because some patients tolerate some procedures without pain control doesn’t mean all should tolerate it without pain control.”

Just as Levy said, Clark believes that change will come to this field’s standard of care the more people talk about it, not just on a personal level by sharing individual experiences, but also at the academic level, by looking at the way the next line of women’s health care providers are taught during their years in medical school, residency and fellowship. In her role with UTMB, Clark also wears the hat of a professor for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which allows her the firsthand opportunity and privilege to actively be part of initiating and assisting that change with those in training.

“Rather than just dismissing pain control issues in obstetrical care due to pregnancy, sometimes issues are due to other things going on other than pregnancy and we can’t just assume, we need to actually talk to the patient and rule everything else out before attributing it to the pregnancy,” Clark said.

Leading-edge experts in their respective fields, Clark and Levy are helping UTMB Health further its mission of improving health by offering innovative education and training, pursuing cutting-edge research and providing the highest quality patient care.

To learn more about the care options available at UTMB Health, visit utmbhealth.com.

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