Just 100 years ago, life was much shorter for American women. According to data collected from University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Demography External Site, women born in 1920 were expected to live until age 54. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that American women born in 2016 will live far longer, with an average life expectancy External Site of 81 years. This is largely due to improvements in public health, nutrition, medicine and vaccinations, among other factors.
"This is a relatively new concept, living this long," says Leisha Barcus (shown above, right), director of Mercy Comfort Health Center for Women. "We're only beginning to pay closer attention to women’s health, particularly as women approach their 50s. Women have special and unique health care needs, particularly in mid-life," says Barcus. "Up until now, those needs have been somewhat overlooked in health care.”
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The "gap" in women's health
“During our 20s and 30s, and through our child-bearing years, most women typically have a gynecologist or obstetrician who specializes in reproductive health. But beyond that, we generally seek care from a primary care physician,” says Barcus. “As we age and start to experience menopausal systems, we often don’t know where to turn for care.”
While seeing your personal doctor is beneficial, it's often difficult for a primary care physician to get to the root cause of what a woman is experiencing during certain points in her life, according to Barcus. It takes a bit longer than a typical office visit.
"At Mercy Comfort Center for Women External Site, the focus is generally on mid-life issues. We have specially certified physicians who are trained in the unique physiology of menopause and how it works,” says Barcus. The center opened in April of 2017 in Clive, Iowa, and offers a collaborative, comprehensive approach to women’s health care that combines traditional medical services with holistic, complementary treatments.
Give your "future self" a gift: Establish care now
Martha Ellen Anderson, a Wellmark member from Des Moines, Iowa, has been a registered nurse for nearly 40 years. Having been around doctors, patients and several medical settings this long, she has one important piece of advice for patients, particularly women: “Establish care, now.”
What does this mean, exactly? It’s not about knowing all the ins and outs of the health care system, says Anderson. And, it’s not about knowing every specialist, facility and surgeon. “It’s simply about having a personal doctor who is your advocate,” she says. “Someone you connect with, personally, and someone you trust to connect you with other medical professionals, when you need it most.”
Having a personal physician you trust with your health, says Anderson, is “a gift to your future self.”
She knows firsthand
If you’re guessing Anderson speaks from experience, you’d be right. In May of 2016, a routine mammogram revealed breast cancer. “It happens to so many of us, and I can say that in every case, it’s an overwhelming diagnosis, to say the least,” says Anderson.
Luckily, Anderson had established care with her physician, Dr. Valerie Stratton (shown above, left). "We have such a great relationship, and I placed so much trust in her."
Plus, Mercy Comfort Health Center for Women — where Stratton practices — had everything Anderson needed all in one location, including various specialists and surgeons she needed after cancer treatment.
"This place had a new vibe and feel to it, it is designed specifically for women's health care needs. It was literally a life-saver for me," said Anderson.
Following surgery and radiation, Anderson had a full recovery from breast cancer. She continues to receive care at Mercy Comfort Center for Women. Anderson also attended classes about certain health-related issues she was facing. It was education, treatment and loving care all tied up in on place,” says Anderson. “They cared for the whole person — not just the physical person, but the emotional and mental aspects as well.”
“It’s hard to imagine, but when you are sick, you are at your most vulnerable,” says Anderson. “Having a physician you know and trust by your side, well, it may be the most important thing you can do for yourself."
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