|Providing Compassionate Healthcare
For the last four years, PRCH member Susan M. George, MD, has worked at the University of New Mexico Student Health Center in Albuquerque, providing health services primarily to female patients in their early 20s. Contraception, prevention of STIs and general health maintenance make up the bulk of Dr. George’s patient load, but self esteem is also a primary issue with the patients she sees. “I probably talk about self esteem as much as I do about contraception,” she says. “As women get older, they are more comfortable with their bodies, but the early 20s is a very self-conscious time. It’s important to know this and to talk about these things with patients.”
Dr. George began her career in medicine as a volunteer in a prenatal clinic, where she learned about the stark realities of reproductive healthcare in America. “My experience at the clinic taught me a lot about how inaccessible healthcare is and how important healthcare is for women, especially pregnant women,” she says. “A lot of women at the prenatal clinic did not want to be pregnant, and that made a lasting impression on me.”
Before receiving her MD from the University of California San Diego, Dr. George spent several years in the early 1980s working as a nurse. It is in part her many years of varied healthcare experience that has caused Dr. George to emphasize the need for compassionate healthcare providers, especially when it comes to reproductive health. “Students who think they might be pregnant come to the Student Health Center for testing,” she says. “We talk to them before they take the test about what they want to do if they are in fact pregnant, and most of the time it’s something the patient has been thinking about long before they come to see us. We encourage the staff at the Student Health Center to have an open attitude about giving out information.”
Although the University of New Mexico Student Health Center does not provide abortion services, they do have a referral process in place, and dispensing this information is a priority. Students who ultimately seek abortions are given a sheet to fill out in which they evaluate their experience, so that the Health Center can continue to make helpful recommendations. “It’s important to us that the students be happy with their healthcare, even when they aren’t receiving that care directly from me,” Dr. George says.
According to Dr. George, who recently moved to Maine, physician activism is extremely important. Last year, Dr. George conferred with PRCH about ways to combat New Mexico’s pending so-called “partial birth” abortion legislation, and wrote a letter to the editor on medication abortion that appeared in American Family Physician magazine. “We need more physician activism,” she says. “We need to make ourselves more visible and pro-active, rather than reactive, as physicians. We need to educate our peers as well as our patients about these issues.”
Dr. George’s advice to medical students is to educate themselves as much as they can about their female patients’ options, regardless of whether they plan on becoming abortion providers. “The history of abortion in the U.S. is appalling,” Dr. George says. “Poor women received sub-optimal care before Roe v. Wade, which resulted in infertility and death. Wealthier women have always had options, and that imbalance continues today. Safe abortion should be made available to all women. As a physician, you must make it your responsibility to learn what’s going on our there, and see if you can do something about it.”