Written by Erica Cahill, M.D.’13, M.S.
I came to medicine via politics and not the other way around. This dual passion led me to start the first podcast by an obstetrician-gynecologist, called The V Word, where one of my colleagues, Dr. Jenn Conti, and I discuss topics related to reproductive health.
What I loved about the University of Vermont when I interviewed was that there was a focus on not just the biologic pathways but how the actual system of medicine functioned – or didn’t. After learning that most medical errors happen due to communication breakdowns, as opposed to lack of medical knowledge or skill, I worked with Dr. Elise Everett, an incredible mentor and cheerleader, to create a study looking at structured sign-outs in obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Everett not only stoked my passion for research, but maybe more importantly, was an incredible source of positivity and encouragement at a time when I felt like I’d never be worthy of the degrees or titles to which I aspired. I also participated in The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, which is focused on addressing the underlying causes of health inequities. With my colleague, Delia Horn, M.D.’13, I created a program with the Community Health Centers of Burlington to help newly resettled refugees orient to our medical system.
After completing my residency in obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University in Washington D.C, I matched at Stanford University for my fellowship in complex family planning. Just as I was preparing for this transition, the world was preparing to celebrate the election of first woman President of the United States and what I hoped would be a renewed focus on the importance of supporting women, families, and reproductive health. Instead, Donald Trump was elected and the attacks on reproductive health – along with attacks on immigrants, climate change, and freedom of press, among many others – increased to a level that I did not think possible. During this time, I had started listening to several political podcasts to try to make sense of what was happening around me – and noticed that there were no medical providers talking about the impact of these policies on patient care. I said to my colleague, “someone should really create a podcast to do that.” Luckily, this colleague was Dr. Jenn Conti, an ob-gyn at Stanford as well as a journalist, and she said, “WE should do this.” We went out that day and purchased microphones and spent the evening figuring out how to use recording software and came out with our first episode idea: surrogacy. We wanted to talk about topics that are broadly stigmatized, misunderstood, yet affect many people every day. Our research assistant at the time, Charlotte Hastings, M.D.’19, helped us produce and create our original show plan. In our first episode, we interviewed Libby Day, M.D.’18, who had been a gestational carrier while she was a medical student at UVM.
Since that first episode, we have talked about everything from miscarriage and postpartum depression to the healthcare of incarcerated women to fibroids and birth plans. Our goal is to address the gap between women’s lived experiences and scientific progress; to create a connection between what women are asking questions about and what the medical field is saying. Obstetrics and gynecology, like all of medicine in the United States, was created by white men and its history, like the history of our country, is infused with racism and patriarchy. While this isn’t something that we talk about much in the scientific literature, it affects women’s interactions with health care providers every day.
My clinical practice includes caring for people with female body parts throughout the reproductive life cycle and even though I try not to talk about politics in a clinical setting, I know that policy affects every patient interaction I have – from the cost of a visit with me to the choices a person can make about their pregnancy.
The V Word continues to give me the opportunity to examine how politics shapes the care I can provide for my patients, to explore patients experiences outside of a research question, and most importantly, to create a conversation bridging the gap between the fascinating pathways in the human body and the political world that impacts how we care for it. I hope to involve more graduates of the Larner College of Medicine. More than ever, we have to acknowledge that medicine is not practiced in a black box, but is affected by all the social forces around it. It is more critical than ever that we as physicians advocate for laws and policies that are based on sound scientific evidence, that protect our ability to care for our patients, and that protect our patients’ abilities to maintain their own health.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to start a podcast or think of a great topic to feature on the V Word, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org