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Dr. Wendy Klein, Menopause Healthcare Pioneer

Knowing that there are increasing numbers of healthcare professionals dedicated to menopause makes this one of the most exciting times in medical history. As part of a series honoring these men and women, we meet Dr. Wendy Klein, a true women’s healthcare pioneer.

In the battle against menopause, women have spent decades feeling isolated and frustrated. In the past, doctors paid little attention to menopause and patients just hoped ‘the change’ would happen, and happen quickly. Klein is the Associate Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Medicine.

Among the many highlights of her extraordinary career:
*Chair, Women’s Health 2011 Congress
*Deputy Editor, Journal of Women’s Health
*Member of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS)
*Established Women’s Health Residency Program at VCU
*Cofounder of the Association of Academic Women’s Health Programs
*Founder of the annual VCU Institute for Women’s Health Update Continuing Medical Education Conference
*Founder of Women in Medicine, Science and Dentistry Organization (WISDM)
*Past co-chair of VCU School of Medicine’s Committee on the Status of Women and Minorities
*Co-author of ‘The Menopause Makeover'

The list of accomplishments stretches even further yet Klein graciously donated her time for an interview at the 2010 NAMS 21st Annual Meeting held in Chicago. Meeting with Klein was a chance to learn more about her passion for women’s health and the promising breakthroughs taking place, in large part due to fellow colleagues who share a desire to help improve the quality of women’s health.

“Our culture is against us.”
Klein notes that both doctors and patients have had to overcome decades of negative attitudes and stereotypes towards menopause and aging. Particularly for women, getting older meant the end of life and vitality and the end of a sense of purpose.

“Our culture here in North America is against us,” explains Klein, “as a whole we do not value age or wisdom.” While other cultures tend to revere their elder members of society, the message for many North American/Western women is that menopause marks the end of women’s contributions to society.

Fortunately, healthcare professionals such as Klein knew much more could be and should be done to address menopause and its effects on women’s health. “We find that our patients come to us, dealing with the stigma of menopause and aging.”

Klein heartily applauds the growing numbers of Baby Boomers joining the menopausal ranks and credits this generation for shaking up many of the negative beliefs. North America faces an aging population over the next few decades. This is a generation wanting to prolong good health and enjoy a quality of life unheard of for their grandparents.

“Symptoms you cannot control”
Even the most ardent Boomers find themselves up against the less pleasant aspects of menopause including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, extra pounds, and genital issues. “Women are expected to take care of so many areas in life and maintain control to keep everything together. Along come those menopause symptoms that women cannot control and that is where much of the frustration lies.”

Klein explains that women are looking for answers to help deal with the difficulties of menopause. At the same time, women are facing a new phase of life where the past is catching up with them health wise. Women need to make better choices but they need the right information to make those decisions.

“Periods don’t stop; they sputter.”
Many women would love to just get menopause over with as quickly as possible and look for a magic fix or quick cure. However, there are no magic pills to help, and since menopause is not a disease, there is no real cure available. Instead, women need solid information that they can discuss with their doctors to understand what is happening during menopause.

Misinformation has led some women to have unrealistic expectations about menopause and the impact it has on their bodies. As Klein reminds us, “Menopause is not like a switch. Periods don’t stop; they sputter.” This means that women need to be prepared to deal with several years of transition as the reproductive hormones subside.

With menopause lasting anywhere from three to ten years, women will go through several upheavals as hormone levels rise and fall. It is all natural and while not always pleasant or welcome, menopause is the perfect time to look at the ways to improve overall health.

Menopause can be empowering and this is where the patient doctor relationship can make all the difference.

A special thank you to Wendy Klein, MD, FCAP for taking time out her very busy schedule for our interview.

Look for more menopause information or find a NAMS certified practitioner in your area by visiting www.menopause.org.

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