Ladybrille Woman of the Month, Dr. Ngozi Osuagwu

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This month’s Ladybrille “Woman of the Month” is Dr. Ngozi Osuagwu, author of a wonderful book entitled Letters to My Sisters: Plain Truths and Straightforward Advice from a Gynecologist. Just as the title might suggest, the book takes an honest and analytical look at the problems and issues faced by many women today. In her book, Dr. Osuagwu, a trained and seasoned obstetrician and gynecologist, offers guidance in accessible and real language. She doesn’t pull any punches and she is not condescending. The book is chockfull of great advice and resources for medical issues such as: pap smears, gynecological exams, annual exam, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, yeast infection, polycystic ovary syndrome, cardiovascular disease and health and fitness, in the hope of educating women about themselves and the world of medical matters that could affect them. We have no doubt that this masterfully-done book will provide a voice for many women who would have no where else to turn on these issues.

Recently, Ladybrille caught up to Dr. Ngozi. We chatted about her life and her labors of love.

LADYBRILLE.COM: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! We love your book and we’d like to thank you for writing it! It’s going to help a lot of people! Dr. Osuagwu:You’re very welcome!

LADYBRILLE.COM: We spoke before, you mentioned you grew up in Brooklyn (so did I), what was that like for you? Where’d you do your schooling? Dr. Osuagwu:It was wonderful I had a really good childhood life so I can’t complain. I loved Brooklyn. I loved the high school I went to (Brooklyn Technical High School). It was wonderful! I still keep in touch with a few friends. I went to undergrad at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. From there, I went to medical school in Buffalo and then I came back to NY to do my residency. I did it in several hospitals. I started out doing one year in surgery in the Montefiore system and then I went to Bronx Lebanon for four years of ob-gyn.

LADYBRILLE.COM: As a child did you know exactly what you wanted to do?

Dr. Osuagwu:I come from a family of strict Nigerian parents. They told me I was gonna be a doctor and I became one. I think my younger sibs had more options than I did. My parents were big on making sure I had a profession where no one determined what I was going to eat; meaning a profession where I can have my own business instead of being dependent on a boss. My father was professor. My mom was in daycare and she now works as a consultant for New York City. They’d always had a boss and they wanted to make sure I had an option to have a boss or be a boss.

LADYBRILLE.COM: Clearly it worked! Dr. Osuagwu:I did own my own practice for awhile and now I work for the hospital. Teaching comes naturally because everyone in my household taught. My parents were big on teaching. I laugh now when I am talking to my mom and I say “I always thought I would be a teacher teaching kids” and she says “You’re teaching adults it’s still in the teaching area.” I have the best of both worlds, I’m teaching residents and I have the opportunity to have a private practice.

LADYBRILLE.COM: How long have you been in the field? Dr. Osuagwu:I graduated from medical school in 1990. You then do a residency program. I was in surgery residency for a year and my ob-gyn residency for 4 years. So after residency, I’ve been practicing since 1995.

LADYBRILLE.COM: Did something make you chose that as your specialty? Dr. Osuagwu:I chose it because I wanted something that I could use anywhere whether here in the US or abroad. I wanted something about me. It’s easy because I’m dealing with women, I’m a woman. . .The primary thing was where can I go? Who can benefit from my specialty? If I did neurosurgery, yes but could that really help the masses?

LADYBRILLE.COM: I wondered if there was something in particular happened for you to choose gynecology as your specialty. Dr. Osuagwu:Did I start out med school wanting to be an ob/gyn? No. When I started out I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I wanted to be a neurosurgeon for prestige. There weren’t that many women in neurosurgery at that time. Then I thought about surgery and I ended up with ob/gyn because I like the options. If you want be in the operating room, or you wanted to be in the ambulatory setting it was great. I like the fact that you can actually have a long term relationship with the patient. You can’t do that in emergency medicine. You can’t do that as a neurosurgeon, once you take whatever out of their head they go back to their other doctor. I wanted a long term relationship.

You get to know people, it’s wonderful. I always tell people I never need to watch soap operas, the lives of average people are soap operas in [themselves]. I like to see the transitions: to watch someone get better when they’re ill; if someone’s trying really hard to have a baby and they finally succeed. It’s a happy field most of the time. You’re dealing with relatively young people and people do well.

LADYBRILLE.COM: As a practicing physician and a as woman what has been the toughest situation you’ve had to deal with? Dr. Osuagwu:I think trying to balance your family life and trying to be there for your patients. You have to really put limits. I would say I was truly a workaholic until I became very sick in 1999. I had to think about priorities and my priority is my family.

LADYBRILLE.COM: Could you get more specific? Dr. Osuagwu:I got sick in 1999. At that time I was in the practice for 2 years. I devoted a lot of time. My husband was the manager. By that time, I had three children. I got very sick and I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. The people who visited me were my family – my husband and children. I had some patients who were annoyed saying “when is she coming back? I need to be seen!” It dawned on me that we’re not going to live forever. You’ve got to think about your health. Once you take care of yourself, you can begin to care for other people. That was my wake up call. You can’t always assume that a physician is taking care of themselves. We’re always putting ourselves last: you make sure patients are well, after that you have to make sure your family is well. That sickness was a wakeup call, if I’m not around no one gets well. I have to have my priorities straight and then I can be good for everyone.

LADYBRILLE.COM: I’m sure you’ve seen everything in time you’ve been practicing. Dr. Osuagwu:I don’t know if I’ve seen everything. Every once in a while someone surprises me.

LADYBRILLE.COM: I can only imagine what that must be like. As a doctor what has been the hardest thing? Dr. Osuagwu: One of the things that I put in the book, the hardest is delivering a dead baby. It’s still very very hard. You want everything to be perfect you want people to have a wonder family. When a baby dies in-utero and you have to deliver a dead baby that is very difficult.

LADYBRILLE.COM: What compelled you to write this book? Dr. Osuagwu: I started my practice in 1997. When you think about September 11 it affected a lot of people; but also the healthcare industry and malpractice was going up, everything was becoming difficult. I would even say that signaled a change in the economy. When I first started out my malpractice was $19,000 in 6-7 years it became $75,000. It was costing more, my overhead was coming up and at one point I didn’t think I would be able to maintain a private practice. I was thinking about closing the private practice; I started it with my husband and I said to him “When I close this practice it’s gone what do we have left?” At that point I decided to write a letter to my patients telling them to keep up the good work.

The practice was called “The Healthy Woman” it was called that because we wanted a positive way of looking at health. My job as a physician is to keep you healthy and if you did become sick then we’ll get you healthy. I felt by closing the practice all of that ended. The letters came out of that. I wanted to tell my patients that to keep up the good work, to continue to take care of themselves. It was to be a parting gift to the patients. We were just going to go to Kinko’s and make some copies. Fortunately, some people read the letters and they said it could be helpful to other women and that’s how it reached the point of wanting it published.

LADYBRILLE.COM: When I read the book, the letters in the book seemed a little more involved than that. Were these real letters? Dr. Osuagwu:These are not real letters to patients, these are fictitious patients. What I was trying to get out was that these are problems that occur with a lot of people. A patient comes and they think they’re the only one suffered from fibroids. As you see more and more patients, you realize that your problem is shared by somebody else. They realize they’re not the only one who is going through it.

The subject matter is what I was interested in. You’re not the only person who’s slept with two people and unsure who the father of your baby is. Let’s get beyond this see what else we can do. Unfortunately, these are not isolated issues. For instance, in the book there is a letter about the woman that is constantly getting STDs and still with the same man. This happens a lot. I wanted to teach people that if you’re not the one that’s deviating, you’ve got to respect your body. Some people need to hear this!

LADYBRILLE.COM: You make references to faith & God throughout the book. Dr. Osuagwu: I truly believe in God. I believe that everyone has a system that guides them. There has to be somebody higher than me that created this universe. I can’t believe man did it. I thank my God for where I am and I use that. It helps me realize that you have to be nice and I really do believe in that golden rule treat people as you’d like to be treated. I think if every body felt that way life would be really good!

LADYBRILLE.COM: Have you ever received feedback from a patient that read the book? Dr. Osuagwu:I’ve gotten feedback. The interesting thing is when my patients read it they can hear my voice saying it. Nobody was surprised. When a stranger reads it, they think “Oh my God! This is a bold doctor.” My patients will read it and say “Oh, this is you.” They start smiling and say “Yeah this is what she would say!” A couple of patients said “At one point, I thought you were talking about me but then something in the story changed at the end” If you read it you might find your story in there. Have I ever met you? No. These are common things that happen.

LADYBRILLE.COM: I think people really need that. A lot of people don’t know things. For instance, a lot of people don’t know that discharge is not necessarily a bad thing. Dr. Osuagwu:It’s interesting that you mention it. The book though you can finish it in one sitting but there’s more to the book. People forget there are many resources. I truly believe that people should be informed. There are good websites to go and get informed. There is information on websites. We really only have 15 minutes in the doctors office. Do you want to take that 15 minutes and discuss what fibroids are? Or do you want to talk about what are you options? Go online and read about your condition. When you come in you will have some knowledge so we can spend that 15 minutes digging into options and what we can do.

LADYBRILLE.COM: I agree and I think the same goes for any type of doctor visit. Dr. Osuagwu: You have to know your body and you might go to the emergency room and they might. If you’re not happy with what one doctor says you have to be the one to be proactive and find a doctor. If you know your body and you feel that something is wrong you have to find out what it is. That is something I hope people get from the book. Eventually you have to take the responsibility. Yeah. I’m your physician and I do know a lot but you have to be a partner, you have to listen. I could tell you to do something and if I tell you to do something and you don’t do it I can’t help you.

LADYBRILLE.COM: What are three things you hope people take from your book? Dr. Osuagwu: 1)Be a partner in their medical care; 2) I would like people to practice prevention. There are things that we can catch; 3) Feel comfortable with their body.

It’s not a book that you read it and throw away; you can come back to it because there is so much information and so many resources.

LADYBRILLE.COM: The book won a Benjamin Franklin award. Let’s talk a bit about that. Dr. Osuagwu:We got it in 2007. We were finalist with two other books. It was really a publisher’s award an award for first time non-fiction book writers. It recognizes first time publishers in various genres. That year we were nominated there was a book on Katrina and I believe the other book was an Asian cookbook. If you’re ever competing against anybody, you can’t beat a Hurricane Katrina book. We were very happy to be selected as finalists.

LADYBRILLE.COM: Are you working on anything right now? Dr. Osuagwu:I have two projects coming up. One is a manual for first year ob/gyn residents about how to make it through the first year and some advice. The second project is a book with cautionary tales. It’s about different women and what happens when you don’t’ take advantage of the preventive tests and medicines – what are the consequences. It’s still in the very early stages I’m writing it.

LADYBRILLE.COM: Are you shopping it around or are you looking to the same publisher again? Dr. Osuagwu: We’re looking to work with the same publisher. We will share it with some people to read. It’s a process; you get a copy editor and all of that. I’d like to finish my part by the end of the summer.

LADYBRILLE.COM: Thank you so much for your time and your book! Ladybrille wishes you all the best! Dr. Osuagwu:Thank you!

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