March 8, 2010

Celebrating Progress in Women's Health

Being busy and wishing for more hours in a day isn't gender specific. Lives are often full at a frantic pace.

For women, health issues can be complex and multi-faceted. Add breast and reproductive health to the list and it's really important to keep one thing in mind: health is an evolving concept that is the result of a number of little choices made every day.

"It's a work in progress to talk about women's health as a single topic," says Joan Dawkins, Executive Director of the Women's Health Clinic. "There are a thousand things we could talk about, none less important."

The Women's Health Clinic is a woman-centred, community-based health centre offering a range of services and supports. "Women are made up of the right stuff to do what needs to be done. We want women to be well-informed so they can make a conscientious decision," says Joan.

"We deal with women in all of their realities. If you treat each health condition as separate, you don't get a holistic perspective. Determinants of health have an enormous impact on health in the context of your life - your relationships, where you live, how educated you are, if you have access to nutritious food and if you have barriers to getting exercise."

With three doctors and three nurse practitioners, it's impossible to see and treat every woman who needs good primary health care. That's why the Clinic has taken the approach to be creative around women's health issues. "We've taken the view that we do fairly focused work on things that are quite unique to women. We take what we learn and teach them to other practitioners and advocate with government to see if we can influence the larger system," says Joan.

One health issue that has benefited from this approach is the treatment of menopausal women. While at one point, hormone replacement therapy was very popular, the Clinic took the approach that artificially adjusting hormone levels could be potentially risky and harmful and should only be used when symptoms were debilitating. This approach is now a best practice.

Providing teen clinics in locations where teens could easily access care also proved to be an important focus. In working directly with teens, health care providers had an opportunity to learn about issues they were experiencing, what their challenges were and their needs. Out of this grew services and programs to support healthy body image and reduce the prevalence of eating disorders in young women.

The Clinic is currently developing a program around pelvic pain, which has recently come to light as an important women's health issue. Beyond diagnosing and prescribing medication, there are other components that can be introduced - such as physiotherapy and counseling - to help support a woman in managing the physical and emotional aspects of pelvic pain.

A recent advancement in women's health is the announcement of a birth centre in the Winnipeg health region. Designed with the needs of women and their families in mind, the centre will house a midwifery team and offer women an alternative to giving birth in a hospital or at home. A range of services will be offered to support women in motherhood - from pregnancy to early parenthood.

"There's never any end to the things we can take on. There's a number of issues that need our attention," says Joan. "We take the innovator/developer/advocate roles so we can use our clinical base as a way of influencing much more than inside these four walls."

March 8th is International Women's Day. Ask yourself, "What is one healthy choice you can make today?"

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