Cancer diagnosis in women, especially gynecologic cancer, can be very stressful. Cancer diagnosis and treatment are almost always kept on the back burner until it reaches the final stages, drastically diminishing the quality of life. While this domain may boast of technological advancements and surgical innovations with improved chemotherapy, the success rate drastically drops when diagnosed at the final stages. Prevention should be the ideal approach to be implemented before cancer diagnosis and treatment. In tandem with this, personalized treatment procedures and effective painless care programs are pivotal in making the cancer treatment journey more manageable. But most of the signs and symptoms of cancer are so vague that many women do not acknowledge/notice them or seek help. And when help is sought from healthcare providers, most doctors blindly attribute the symptoms as a result of menopause or hormones.
With a fiery passion for not just cancer prevention but rather a cancer advocacy, Elena Ratner, M.D., Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, is bringing this much-needed change. “I strongly believe the future of cancer care is not necessarily cancer cure or even early detection of cancer but cancer prevention. So I do a lot of advocacy for women to listen to their bodies, know the signs or symptoms of cancer, and make sure they get the care they deserve,” explains Dr. Ratner.
Ensuring Better Cancer Care
Ensuring healthcare providers are equipped to better cater to their patients, Dr. Ratner also advocates with medical providers, physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and chiropractors. This movement assures that the medical community is aware of the signs or symptoms of the cancers with an early diagnosis, thus providing women with the required care and helping prevent cancer.
In conjunction with this, Dr. Ratner has dedicated her career to researching chemotherapy, cancer resistance, and drug development. Drugs specific to a particular female patient are developed, making them more effective for particular cancers and less toxic to allow healthcare providers to preserve the quality of life. “I treat people, of course, but I also believe in the prevention and identification of women at risk of cancer and then advocating for them and the medical community as to how those cancers can be prevented,” adds Dr. Ratner.
She goes on to explain how having cancer can hamper daily life and result in psychological effects that may gravely affect their role in the family and society. Keeping this in mind, she developed a program on sexuality, menopause, and intimacy that caters to supporting these women for survivorship during and after treatment.
Continually striving to better the gynecologic cancer community, Dr. Ratner, holding one of the leadership positions in this domain, guides the patient throughout the journey right from the time of diagnosis, through the surgery, chemotherapy sessions, right up till the patient is cured or till the end of their lives, the journey is made as comfortable as possible. “My passion and commitment toward women and their better care make me a leader. I am incredibly dedicated to this field of cancer surgery and cancer care, particularly with women. I am not just committed to their survival but their quality of life,” elucidates Dr. Ratner.
Never too Late to be Better Equipped!
In fact, to better meet the needs of her patients, Dr. Ratner realized she needed to expand her knowledge and skillset. She returned to Yale and studied MBA because she believed being a surgeon was insufficient and needed a business degree to understand how she could help with early detection on the industry side and figure out different advocacy methods. Taking on MBA gave her the added boost to create a kind of advocacy for women where the women are catered to and educated directly. More importantly, through this initiative, she can educate healthcare providers on the signs and symptoms to help them detect these cancers at an early stage. “I felt I needed additional skills and expertise to have a better approach to cancer care, as research and surgery alone were not enough. More approaches are needed to target this problem,” opines Dr. Ratner.
Shattering the Glass Ceiling!
When quizzed about milestones in her career, albeit several, she believes paving the way for women in leadership in the medical sector is one of her most significant milestones. Being a woman in medicine itself can be very challenging; women in medicine in a leadership position can prove to be an arduous task due to various aspects, including that many women feel like they have to wait to have children and a family and so keep their career on the back burner. Dr. Ratner always felt very strongly that she wanted to have a family and, at the same time, wanted to pursue her dreams and goals of being in the specialty. As she kickstarted her career, she was the only woman in the division. Dr. Ratner was also the department’s first and youngest ever clinical chief. She is a supporter of women, believing that they do not have to give up on their dreams to have a family and do not have to wait to do so. “These were incredible milestones personally but were also milestones for women who come after me because I hope that they see that I was able to accomplish these professional goals without giving up on my personal goals. So much of the culture that needs change will slowly change,” adds Dr. Ratner.
She is slowly but surely changing the narrative that women are meant to be at home taking care of families and do not deserve to hold a leadership position in their careers. Women do not have to give up on their dreams to have a family or wait to do so. She leads by example of how it was relatively unheard of when she had her children during training. She normalized it. She even normalized breastfeeding, where she would go to the room and pump milk for her child between surgeries. “I like being a woman and being very good at my job. I am very practical, efficient, and strong as a surgeon, which is the balance we as women need to establish. This culture of male-driven leadership will change.”
Highly dedicated to her work and the change it brings about, Dr. Ratner works 120 hours a week with surgeries commencing at 7 in the morning till 11 at night. On days when she consults patients, she is in the office from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. Despite a demanding schedule, she unplugs herself from work stress by spending time with her four children and traveling. Before the Coronavirus pandemic struck, Dr. Ratner traveled across the globe to countries like China, Jamaica, and Russia for surgeries and several outreach programs.
Promoting Equality in the Healthcare Domain
Despite the progress made in this sector, so many cultures now need improvement in this segment. So, Dr. Ratner puts a lot of effort into this sector, as she believes that if the balance between men and women in leadership and power is improved, then the culture will be better. “My biggest advice to women is, do not settle nor blindly accept what we are told. We are so valuable and strong! We just need to keep pushing ahead and fighting for ourselves, for women at our level, and for the women that come after us. So much of what I have done professionally is what I have done, not just for myself but for generations to come. Every accomplishment of mine is for every woman that comes after me,” responds Dr. Ratner on advice for women looking to carve a niche in the top management space.
On the road to revolutionizing cultures and the role of women in them, Dr. Ratner intends to take on more leadership roles and have a broader impact on healthcare and the culture of healthcare.
Peering down what the future at Yale holds for Dr. Ratner, she reveals her intent to increase her involvement in leadership in the women’s health department and take on bigger challenging positions in the field. Currently, she holds several leadership positions, not just in the field of women’s health, research, and the department. She is also deeply invested in the field of robotics and automation in the field of surgical robotics. She aims to continue this leadership in robotics across the state to improve patient care and become more cutting-edge and minimally invasive.
For More Info: https://medicine.yale.edu/obgyn/