Health

Dr. Pat Accepts a Presidential Award at the American Medical Women’s Association Gala

get-attachmentMedical Monday: Meet Dr. Pat.

On Saturday night, March 15, at a gala in Washington, D.C., the American Medical Women’s Association bestowed a Presidential Award on gynecologist Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D., Women’s Voices’ publisher and day-to-day pilot.

If you’re a loyal reader of Women’s Voices for Change, you have met Dr. Pat. She is the physician who addresses serious medical issues every Monday—in her own column, “Ask Dr. Pat,” and in “Dr. Pat Consults,” in which she invites members of our Medical Advisory Board  to collaborate  on a wide range of medical questions of concern to women over forty.Our regular readers have also seen Pat in the other hats she wears so beautifully: confident fashion maven;  steadfast life partnerindomitable hostess.

The American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award is given each year at the annual meeting in the name of a female physician who has excelled and contributed significantly to women’s health.  The award is given to an individual for their lifetime commitment and passion for the advancement of women’s health, education, and mentorship of students.

For three years Dr. Pat has been mentoring the medical students who run Weill Cornell Medical Center’s biweekly Weill Cornell Community Clinic for Women. The clinic gives free medical care, including gynecological care, to women who have very limited financial resources and lack health insurance. Every other Monday evening, medical students take the patient’s history, perform an exam with Dr. Pat present, make a diagnosis, order the appropriate tests, and schedule follow-up based on these findings. Two fourth-year students are the clinic’s co-directors; Dr. Pat is the attending physician who takes the history and examines the patient as well and then oversees the work of the medical students.

“Mentoring and care of patients have always come naturally to me,” she says. “I talk to the students about how they can project competence, and how this leads to confidence.” Mentoring means paying attention to the small things that medical-school curricula may not have a formal way of addressing:

• “the importance of students’ coming to the clinic well dressed, so patients will be reassured by their professional appearance

• “making eye contact with the patient

• “avoiding ‘uptalk’—ending a sentence with an upward lilt, as if it were a question

• “addressing clinic patients, who are women in need, in a pleasant but respectful manner

“My goal is to teach the students how to develop the skills to make an immediate connection with the patient,” Dr. Pat says. “Some people are born with the ability to connect with someone easily, but many smart young men and women who go into medicine, who often have excellent math and science skills, may not be as adept in person-to-person interactions. Most of the time these skills can be taught. I don’t think medical schools spend enough time teaching the art of courtesy, the art of conversation, the art of making another person comfortable. The medical students are wonderful to work with and are so excited about learning these skills”.The ability to help a patient relax in your presence is necessary equipment for a young medical student making gynecologic examinations.

For her female students, who must undergo rigorous interviews in their fourth year of medical school as part of their application to and competition for residency programs, Dr. Pat suggests an exercise to create a feeling of confidence. “When you’re about to enter a room, pause in the doorway,” she counsels. “If you want to be visible, you have to believe you are visible. So go to the doorway, but don’t enter. Collect yourself and wait and wait until somebody notices that you are about to cross the threshold. And then own it. Own the room; walk in and own the space.  Self-confidence increases everyone’s confidence in your competence.”

She suggests courteous phrases to help students and patients bond—something as simple as “‘We are so pleased that you came to the clinic tonight in spite of the torrential rainpour.” Or “It really means a lot to us that you have chosen our clinic for your care.

“We need to be respectful of the woman’s choice. It is the connection between patient and doctor that allows a relationship to develop. Relationship-based medicine is as important as the writing of a prescription or the ordering of a test,” she notes.

 

“I teach the medical students I work with about the need to follow up, to close the loop. When we make a diagnosis and if we need more tests to confirm that diagnosis, then we have to make sure the diagnostic procedure is performed; we have to get the results; we have to make sure the patient understands what the results mean and to make sure that she gets any further evaluation that is required. Let’s say a test result is normal but there’s an abnormal result on the breast exam. Medical students sometimes say, ‘But the test is normal,’ and I say, “But there’s still a mass in this woman’s breast.  The imaging report is just a guide for the clinician.”

Patricia Yarberry Allen cherishes the mentors and role models who guided her along her own path. Born on a Kentucky farm, she did not realize that she could be a doctor—she had never known any women doctors—until her third year at the University of Louisville. She’d gone to work young, at 15, putting in at least 20 hours a week—sometimes many more—as a paid nurse’s aide while going to high school. In college she’d worked as an aide in a local private psychiatric hospital on the locked ward for seriously ill women. “I loved going to work every day. I knew I was making a difference,” she says. “I loved caring for those women.”

She greatly admires her 100-year-old Aunt Beulah, who had the courage to eschew the conventional life and become a missionary midwife in India. “I knew Aunt Beulah was having adventures,” she says. She, too, was determined to find work that she loved.

“Since the first day of working as a nurse’s aide I knew I wanted to be involved in the helping field,” she says. “I did not want to be a teacher, I very soon learned I did not want to be a nurse.” She was planning to become a  clinical psychologist —till her faculty adviser suggested that she become a psychiatrist instead, and mentored her through the application process to the medical school at the University of Louisville.  She was one of “about 10 women” in the university of Louisville medical school’s 1972 class of 130. On the recommendation of her most important medical mentor, Dr. Hiram Polk, chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Louisville, “a wise and inclusive man,” she was accepted as the only woman in the 1976 general surgery internship class at New York Hospital.

“When I came there, I found that all the general surgeons were white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, very tall, very athletic, Ivy League–educated men,” Dr. Pat says.  “Though I was certainly hard working enough and loved the work, I knew very soon that I was not going to fit in for four years with those guys:  I had no sport, which they all remarked upon on a daily basis: ‘How could you not even swim?”

Ah, but Patricia Allen had a certain confidence, developed under the affectionate eye of Mary Moss Greenebaum,  the vibrant cultural pioneer who founded, and still runs, the Kentucky Author Forum. “She had a tremendous impact on my life,” Dr. Pat says. “Mary taught me how to be a mentor. She invited me to her home for dinner parties, discussed important political and social change issues with me, taught me how to network by observation, and even gave me advice about clothes . Once, after I had acquired a particularly attractive pair of shoes, Mary said to me, ‘Pat, dear—you know, a lady’s shoes never talk.’

“Obstetrics/gynecology was a very good option for me, because this specialty let me do many things. I needed to do something where I wouldn’t be bored. In ob/gyn there’s the option for general medicine, gynecological surgery, infertility, endocrinology, and obstetrics, or one can do research. When I finished my six years of training at New York Hospital, in 1982, I did what was very unusual at that time—I went into obstetrics and gynecology as a solo practitioner.

“I was told by all of my colleagues and professors that going into solo practice in New York City was a disaster—I’d never make a living. But before the year was out I had a thriving practice and had given birth to my second child. It was a very busy year.”

Eleni Tousimis, American Medical Women’s Association president and chief of breast surgery at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital (she’s a contributor to Women’s Voices), called Dr. Pat last month to tell her about the award. “She said it would be a fun gala—a black-tie dinner at the National Museum of Women in the Arts,” Dr. Pat says.

She phoned her long-time mentor and friend Mary Moss Greenebaum to invite her to the awards event. “This fabulous founder of the Kentucky Author Forum . . . ” the doctor says, laughing, “. . . her first question was, ‘Now Pat, what are you wearing?’

“I told her it was difficult to parse the clothes. It would be a room filled largely with female doctors and most women doctors are not passionate about fashion. That is a broad statement, and I don’t want to offend anyone, but if you were going to choose a profession interested in fashion, ‘lady doctor’ wouldn’t come to mind.”

“Mary told me, ‘Think Jackie O.’

“So obviously,” Dr. Pat muses, smiling, “the bottle-green velvet dress-with-a-train that I’d just had cleaned after my party with The Kid [she won’t say grandson] would not do.”

It was not lost on the doctor that, at age 66, she was still being mentored.

 photo_1The Blue Dress

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  • Leslie Booth in Virginia March 30, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Curious to see a young friend’s glamorous doctor who made rounds in a full-length fur coat, I made it to NY Hospital to take a look. To my delight, she was as smart and skilled as she was stylish and chic. She became my physician and, some years later, saved my life by demanding I act on a suspicious breast biopsy. “We’re talking about your life, Leslie, see a breast surgeon now”!

    Patricia Allen is well deserving of this honor. Kudos.

    Reply
  • Leslie in Portland, Oregon March 30, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Congratulations on the many way in which you so effectively help others, Dr. Pat…You so deserved this award!

    Reply
  • BARBARA Thornbrough March 26, 2014 at 11:43 am

    A big congrats to Dr. Allen for her fantastic work in the medical field. She is a pro and really cares about her patients and their well being. What a pleasure it is to have her as a Doctor.
    OH- you look as mahvellous as you are!!!!!

    Cheer,

    Barbara Thornbrough

    Reply
  • Emily McIntyre Hancook March 25, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I am so pleased for my beautiful and courageous sister-in-law!

    Reply
  • Liz Robbins March 24, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Dear Pat,
    Congratulations on this wonderful honor, and many thanks to you from all of us whom you’ve advised, cared for and helped over all these years.

    Reply
  • Emily Kelting March 24, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Congratulations on all fronts, Dr. Pat! The well-deserved award for all the many ways you mentor and inspire medical students and WVFC readers alike; and man, oh, man do you look great in that gorgeous dress! How you achieve balance with everything going on in your life is truly an inspiration for all of us–speaking from personal experience here–who wear many hats and hope our heads stay attached under them!

    Reply
  • Toni Myers March 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Dr. Pat: a well-deserved honor. Lucky WVFC readers! We have the gift of your mentorship. I never miss a Dr. Pat article.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Suzanne March 24, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Several years ago, I had the privilege of watching Pat Allen as she taught her medical students how to organize and run a benefit event for the Weill Cornell Community Clinic. Since every “free” clinic needs funding, Dr. Pat decided that learning how to put on a fundraiser was an important part of running a free clinic. I will never forget the enthusiasm with which the hors d’oerves were served and the results of the silent art auction announced. But what impressed me most was the adoration that the students (male and female) had for their mentor. The American Medical Women’s Association could not have bestowed the Presidential Award on a more deserving doctor. Congratulations, Pat!

    Reply
  • Roz Warren March 24, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Mazel tov! And you look fabulous, Dr. Pat.

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann March 24, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Congratulations on the well deserved Presidential Award. Dr. Pat, you are a powerful inspiration to women of all ages. Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do to support others!

    Reply
  • Karen March 24, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Pat,

    Congratulations on being recognized for the mindful and caring work you provide to so many women!

    Reply
  • alice cathrall March 24, 2014 at 8:45 am

    so proud of you and your work!

    Reply
  • Andrea March 24, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Congratulations to our wonderful brilliant and stunning (love the dress!) Dr. Pat. We are so proud of your accomplishments and this well deserved award

    Reply