During my years since then as an author, television and radio commentator, speaker, and consultant, this message has become my mission. At its core it remains the same as it was when I made the decision in medical school to train as an internist rather than as a gynecologist. The year was 1973. Back then there was no formally designated specialty in women's health in the holistic sense of treating the patient instead of just the parts. My first rotation that summer in obstetrics and gynecology made me aware of the gaping need for just such a specialty. I decided that by choosing to become an internist—a "family doctor" who could take care of both men and women—I would get a broad-based medical education that would arm me with the greatest range of knowledge and hands-on experience. Although I wanted to focus on women's health in the long run, I felt strongly that by including men in my practice, I would be better able to understand "all that ails us" as women and to help us help ourselves. That proved to be true as I learned in the trenches day by day during the many years that I had male as well as female patients.
Eventually though, I did begin to concentrate on women's health issues. By 1979, I was a fellow at the University of Colorado having completed an Internal Medicine residency at the University of Pennsylvania. I was looking for a research project. Coincidentally, I had just finished taking a seven-day regimen of antibiotics for a bladder infection called cystitis. I was annoyed at how much trouble it had been for me to find a doctor and get an appointment quickly, and I was also not pleased about the cost of the physical exam, the urinalysis, the urine culture, and week's worth of medications. On top of all that, I was worried that I would end up with a vaginal yeast infection since I knew that the drugs would upset the natural flora of the vagina. Sure enough, I did get yeast vaginitis and then I had to pay for medication to cure that!
Even more important, I had been hesitant about taking the antibiotics because a few years earlier my lab partner and girlfriend during my first year of medical school had died from complications of a severe allergic drug reaction to a sulfa antibiotic that she was taking for cystitis. The drug allergy symptom was a skin rash that was misdiagnosed as a viral infection called pityriasis rosea. She kept on taking the sulfa antibiotic and it eventually killed her. What was so eerie for me was that back then I too had symptoms of cystitis. I was having trouble getting in to see a doctor, so my friend actually gave me her follow-up appointment for the cystitis because she was preoccupied with her newly developed skin condition. No wonder I have spent much of my career teaching women how to manage their own health, how to collect, read, and save their own test results and how important a complete and accurate medical history is. I lost a dear friend years ago in part because she didn't know how important it was for her to be proactive about her health.