Dr. Jennifer Peña on Women’s Health

Woman thinking about getting in good health

Women make the world go round. It’s true. Without women, we would have no new generations, lack of structure within the household, miss out on new developments by some very intelligent individuals, and our support systems would be crushed by their absence. Women provide us with what we need to be healthy, happy, and loved, all while doing these same things to keep themselves going every day. 

These are just some of the reasons we need to emphasize the importance of women’s health. Ever heard the saying, "you can’t pour from an empty cup?" This is something many women are trying to do, and it can be draining for them both mentally and physically. To spill into the lives of others, you have to fill up your cup first. Kind of like the “put your own oxygen mask on first” saying. 

This is an issue that Dr. Jennifer Peña knows well and advocates to change. She knows the medical industry inside and out from years of experience and recognizes women’s health as a pressing issue. With all of the obstacles and tasks women must overcome daily, Dr. Peña understands the challenges women face regarding high-quality medical care and some of the stigmas surrounding this issue.

Who is Dr. Jennifer Peña?

Experts in women’s health are becoming more common as the importance of this issue becomes recognized in society, though there's still work to be done. Dr. Jennifer Peña is working to advocate for change regarding women’s health and how it's viewed, and she is doing an outstanding job of it. Thanks to her extensive medical background, she's been able to recognize and address areas of healthcare that need reform so that women can receive better accessibility. 

Dr. Jennifer Peña is an internal medicine doctor. She served in the US Army for almost fifteen years, providing healthcare services to stations worldwide as a Medical Director. In addition to practicing at various Army base locations, Dr. Jennifer Peña has also served as a former physician in the White House Medical Unit under both the Obama and Trump administrations and Physician to the Vice President of the United States. 

After ending her military service in 2019, Dr. Peña began to take on the industry of digital and telehealth. She feels passionate about this area of healthcare as it provides access to sensitive healthcare needs, which Dr. Peña has focused on as the Chief Medical Officer of Nurx. 

Using an asynchronous telehealth platform, Nurx is able to help women take control of their health and let go of fear regarding sensitive healthcare needs.

Why Aren’t Women Taking Control Of Their Health?

All women want to be healthy, but sometimes it's easier said than done. Various concepts can stand in the way of women obtaining the healthcare they need. Though they might know that they need to take care of themselves, and even want to, this can be a challenge in and of itself. Here are the top 5 reasons that Dr. Peña believes are barriers when it comes to women taking control of their own health.

Woman taking care of her household

“Women Are The CEOs of Their Households.”

A household typically runs smoothly thanks to the woman who lives inside of it. She is “ultimately responsible for taking care of not only herself, but also of family members, kids, spouses, etc.,” according to Dr. Peña. This can be a tremendous burden, often causing women to push their health to the side. Dr. Peña has noted that “The pandemic was especially important in highlighting this as many women had to leave their work to be able to take care of the kids that were not out of school, as well as doing the homeschooling and other tasks.” When it comes to making sure others are taken care of, women are usually the ones in charge of this, which can make it difficult to save some care and time for themselves and their own health. Women put themselves at the bottom of their care lists, and often, they're just too exhausted to want to check their own needs off. 

“There’s A Lot of Stigma Surrounding A Lot of Women’s Healthcare.”

Though the importance of women’s healthcare is becoming recognized as more and more important in society, some subjects may be considered taboo to discuss. This can cause a level of discomfort many women may not want to address this issue, causing them to avoid it altogether. As Dr. Peña stated, “Women’s health has to do with OB, gynecologists, pregnancies, but it also includes things like peripartum depression, postpartum depression, menopause, and perimenopause symptoms that a lot of women don’t necessarily feel comfortable going to get care for.” 

These various stigmas regarding certain aspects of women’s healthcare are reflected in legislation being passed, such as abortion rights. These laws preventing women from obtaining certain types of healthcare shows just how far some of these stigmas reach within society. They can even be strong enough to shape laws solely for the purpose of deterring women from receiving healthcare that they may need but others don't feel comfortable with. There's nothing like a group of men coming together to decide what kind of care a woman needs for her body, because, clearly, they know better than them, right? 

“Depending on Their Geographic Location in This Country, Women May Be in Deserts of Care.”

Unfortunately, access to healthcare, particularly essential components of women’s health such as contraceptives, may be limited or nonexistent in some country areas. These areas are known as deserts of care, where primary care and specialized care aren't readily available, including contraceptive deserts. This creates another obstacle for certain women to overcome to take care of their health. As Dr. Jennifer Peña brings up, “Sometimes when care isn’t even available nearby, it can be easy for women to forgo going out of their way when they don’t have time, or don’t have anybody to watch the kids, to try and find this type of care.”

This represents another circumstantial barrier that may prevent women from receiving the healthcare they need to control their health. While many may want to receive these services, it may not be plausible due to their location and the steps they would need to take to access their healthcare.

lady putting money in piggy bank

“Having Access to The Money to Be Able to Pay for Healthcare.”

Socioeconomic factors are a significant contributor to why many women may not access the healthcare they need. As stated earlier, women are CEOs of the household, meaning they are often in charge of budgeting for their entire family. As Dr. Peña has said, “When you have to budget the money, you’re not going to budget for your healthcare. You’re going to budget for the food, the kids, the spouse, and the family.” Women focus on their family's needs before their own, and this often dictates where money will be spent. Given that there're endless needs of others that will constantly be chewing up funds, it can be challenging to have any money leftover for women’s healthcare. 

In addition to budgeting, many socioeconomic statuses of women have been changed due to recent worldwide events, such as COVID-19. Dr. Peña recognizes how this impacts women’s healthcare when saying, “A lot of women just had to leave their jobs behind and with that went their health benefits.”

Losing health benefits due to uncontrollable factors such as the pandemic and a need to caretake for others poses a new barrier for women to obtain healthcare. Many have to pay for services out of pocket. On top of other obstacles, taking control of their health seem impossible.

“We Have to Educate Ourselves.”

The final barrier between women and taking control of their health that Dr. Peña has recognized is a lack of adequate education regarding its importance. While many women are highly educated, they may not be familiar with aspects of healthcare and possible conditions that they're dealing with. Becoming educated with health conditions and care specific to you can take away some of the stigma and lack of importance surrounding the issue. As Dr. Peña says, “I'm not saying women are uneducated, but we have to empower ourselves not just to use Google MD, but to obtain the right medical information to make sure that we understand.”  Women's bodies are complicated, but becoming aware of what conditions you should be looking out for is a step in the right direction of taking control of your healthcare. 

Becoming educated by reliable medical sources about issues regarding women’s health can help open up the conversation. Normalizing communicating about and dealing with these factors that so many women face will help emphasize the importance of women’s healthcare. Many who don't reach out regarding questions about their health and the conditions they may be dealing with can have easily avoidable consequences. Knowledge is the best way to empower women to take control of their health, and many providers are beginning to realize this and put educational material in the hands of their patients. 

Woman meditating

How Mental Health Fits Into All Of This

The mental health of women is just as important as their physical health, if not more so. So, what steps can women take, besides talking to a mental health professional or finding someone they trust to confide in, to improve their mental health

Women have a significant burden to bear and worry about their careers, significantly impacting their mental health. Dr. Jennifer Peña has said that “It starts with acknowledging that you have a problem, as cliche as it sounds. Many patients come through the door to our office and they've never even been screened for anxiety and depression. They will never say that they have it sometimes because they don't acknowledge that it's gotten to the point where it's now a problem, and it's detrimental to their health.”

Mental health controls how women may respond to other health conditions and life in general. If a woman is suffering from poor mental health, they're likely not experiencing the healthiest and happiest life they can because of it. 

One way to improve your mental health that Dr. Peña emphasizes is with community support. She goes on to say, “Mental health is something that requires not only health professionals to help you through it and personal effort, but also a lot of support. This could be from your community, from your religious community, from your family, etc. It can come in a myriad of different ways.”

In addition to community support, mental health services are becoming much more accessible. Many platforms offer mental health resources that you can utilize from the comfort of your home, making it easier than ever to be proactive. The final way to improve the mental health of women that Dr. Peña points out is a healthy lifestyle. She has stated, “A healthy lifestyle will not just help your body, it'll also help your mind do things that will make you feel good.”

Women who have an active hobby that they love, or a healthy meal that they enjoy, can use implementing these into their daily lives to boost their physical health and their mental health.

Woman holding a cute heart to signify good health

The Most Important Things To Note About Women’s Health

While Dr. Jennifer Peña makes some great points about limitations regarding women’s health and things that need to be overcome, she also focuses on the most important things for women to note. “Equip yourself with the tools to take care of yourself. Be a little selfish, put yourself first sometimes when it comes to your health care because if you're not well then, you can't take care of others.”  It's the whole "you can't fill another's cup if yours is empty" saying. 

She notes the importance of fulfilling the role of a caretaker and many others as a woman, though this can’t occur if the woman herself is not well enough to do so. Women need to empower themselves to receive the healthcare they need, and through this, they'll become empowered to show up in all areas of their lives. 

Not only should women be empowered to take care of themselves physically, but also mentally. One of the ways to do so is through open communication within their relationships. Being empowered to have open, honest, and sometimes difficult conversations with those important to you can help prevent issues regarding sexual practices or preferences, to name a couple. 

What Providers Can Do To Knock Down Women’s Healthcare Barriers

While women’s healthcare may seem like it is an individualized issue, many barriers can be combated by medical providers as well. Women taking control of their health may feel like it’s all on them when, in reality, there's a wide variety of ways that providers can influence this and advocate for them. Many are not actively trying to do so, making it harder for women to accomplish independently.

Educating providers on the appropriate narrative to approach sensitive healthcare issues is key to reducing women’s healthcare stigmas. Dr. Peña points out that many providers aren't trained on how to have these difficult conversations, making it arduous to normalize seeking care for sensitive healthcare conditions. As providers, developing a way to make dealing with these often complex and uncomfortable topics less intense can help make aspects of women’s healthcare less daunting and taboo. 

In addition to addressing sensitive healthcare issues correctly, Dr. Peña also feels that providers can help women feel more included in receiving care for specific problems by normalizing stigmatized conditions. Keeping personal feelings out of practice is essential to making women’s healthcare more accessible and emphasized within societal values. She states that “We need to be more inclusive about giving women access to reproductive health resources, regardless of how we feel about certain things.” She touches on the fact that, as providers, there's an oath taken to take care of people, regardless of personal feelings towards certain situations. Providers who deny women healthcare based on something that they disagree with are disservicing women as individuals and women’s healthcare as a whole. 

Finally, Dr. Peña points out that providers need to remember that women suffer from many of the same issues as men and that removing gender biases from their practices helps knock down the barriers within women’s healthcare. Often, certain health conditions that could have been prevented are overlooked within women simply because they're more common in men. She goes on to say, “We're also always thinking about certain preventive screenings for cancer, such as prostate and things like that, that are men specific. But we have to be more verbal about reminding women since they're just as easily capable of getting a heart attack as men are. So smoking cessation is important also for women because it's not just the man that's going to have a heart attack, that happens to women as well.” 

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