I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Nieca Goldberg, Medical Director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Dr. Goldberg is nationally known for her pioneering work in women’s health. She was one of the first doctors to speak out publically about the biological differences between men and women and the dangers of treating women as if they were just smaller men. She is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine; the co-medical director of the 92nd Street Y’s Cardio Rehab Program; host on SIRIUS XM 81’s Doctor Radio program “Beyond the Heart.” A national spokesperson for the American Heart Association, she started the “Go Red for Women” campaign. She is the author of DR. NIECA GOLDBERG’S COMPLETE GUIDE TO WOMEN’S HEALTH and the award-winning WOMEN ARE NOT SMALL MEN, which was updated as THE WOMEN’S HEALTHY HEART PROGRAM: Lifesaving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease(Ballantine Books).
Can you tell us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My father was diagnosed with heart disease at the age of 47 and then underwent coronary bypass surgery at age 52. It was scary and at the same time eye opening to learn about the risks that caused his disease and how my mom changed the way she prepared meals and incorporated more fruits and vegetables in our diet. Additionally, my father helped himself when he quit smoking. He also showed me how hard it is to get someone to exercise when they have never exercised.
His doctor recommended he purchased an exercise bicycle, which he tried and then it turned into a close hanger. His doctors spent time explaining his condition, medications and the necessary lifestyle changes to my dad and mom and me.
I later volunteered at a hospital with a cardiologist who mentored me. He remains a friend and a mentor.
Fast forward to when I completed medical school, residency and a cardiology fellowship. I started my first job at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn New York. One morning, I made rounds in the coronary care unit and one the patients was a woman who worked at the hospital and was admitted for cardiac symptoms. She told us that she had been to see several doctors with her symptoms and they told her a range of things like you’re stressed out, take a vacation and one gave her a prescription for valium. The good news was that she was not having a heart attack, but her symptoms were concerning enough that she may have had a narrowed artery to her heart muscle.
She was referred for a stress test and I was the physician supervising her stress test. She started to exercise and experienced throat tightness and shortness of breath. The ECG was abnormal and I stopped the test. She only exercised for a minute and a half and I called her doctor and explained to him that there was a high probability she had a severely narrowed artery. He told me that was unlikely because she was a woman and women don’t have heart disease. We discussed sending her for further testing such as a coronary angiogram and he still was not convinced. A nurse that I was working with observed this interaction and supported my recommendation for the angiogram. He relented and the angiogram showed a 99 percent blockage in the left anterior descending artery, the artery that supplies blood flow to the front of the heart. Important lesson: never give up. I still value the importance of nurses for their support and for their patient care.
How have your personal challenges informed your career path?
I have gone against the system throughout my career. Women still remain underrepresented in cardiology. Only 12 percent of the board-certified doctors in the United States are women. I raised awareness of cardiovascular disease in women before the system embraced it. In order to help women, I wrote a book informing them of their risks. Not only did I inspire women to seek medical careers, I think I also inspired researchers, clinicians and the American Heart Association to join the movement.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other doctors to help their patients to thrive?
- Listen to the patient. The patient will tell you why you came for the visit.
- Give up “medi speak” and talk to your patients in a way that they can understand you and your instructions. They will be more likely to follow your instructions.
- Quit looking at the computer when you are speaking to the patient and you may pick up additional clues about how they are feeling. Don’t forget, we still call it a doctor-patient relationship.
- For hospital administrators: Patients hate impersonal call centers taking their phone calls.
- Use the Electronic Health Records (EHR) to your advantage. Have the patient send you messages through the secure portal and use it to send results and instructions. I find my patients are more likely to follow instructions by using this.
Social media and reality TV create a venue for people to share their personal stories. Do you think more transparency about your personal story can help or harm your field of work? Can you explain?
I think it can help the field. Right now, most doctors are employed by health systems and that has led to depersonalization with phone calls coming into call centers. Patients check in with kiosks (like the airport) and it is so difficult for them to get answers to questions about billing or even making an appointment. And when patients finally sees the doctor, the first part of the visit is complaints about the system. I would like to help people navigate the health system with less angst and get them the care they need.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote? Do you have a story about how that was relevant to your life?
Several years ago, a patient told me her husband always said that when one door closes, another one opens. I remembered that when I was told that the cardiac rehab program I was running was closing because the hospital was having financial difficulty and I was going to be out of a job. I started a medical practice focused on women and heart disease in six weeks. That was probably the hardest thing I had to do in my career. The practice really took off and seven years into it I was recruited by NYU. I asked if they were interested in starting a women’s center. I wrote a proposal and the Joan H Tisch Center for Women’s Health opened its doors in September 2011.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
You never know what your idea can trigger. I would like to restore humanity to the health care system.
How can our readers follow you on social media?They can visit my website which is https://drnieca.com/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!