When it comes to advocating for women’s health, we can all learn from Dr. Soyini Hawkins, MD. Dr. Hawkins not only has a wealth of knowledge on everything women’s health, but she is also extremely passionate about increasing access and promoting equity in gynecological health care. Join us this Fibroid Awareness Month as we go behind the scenes with Dr. Hawkins and learn more about what makes her the OBGYN she is today and her experience helping women manage their uterine fibroids based on their unique treatment and lifestyle goals.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an OBGYN?
I have always been passionate about medicine and realized I wanted to be a doctor in my 5th grade science class. One of my early goals was to have a continuity of care for my patients over their lifespan, so my curiosity in women’s health turned into an interest in becoming an OBGYN, which would give me that opportunity. When I was in medical school, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. Within 6 months of diagnosis, I experienced severe symptoms, which kickstarted my journey to becoming the minimally invasive gynecologist I am today.
My personal fibroid journey allows me to foster unique connections with my patients. I can relate to patients who tell me they’ve bled through an outfit or had to cancel a vacation because of heavy bleeding. This understanding allows me to grasp my patient’s lifestyle goals and better provide treatment options that suit all their needs.
How do you counsel patients to identify the treatment options right for them?
For the initial conversation, I like to do more listening than talking. I want to know how their fibroids are truly impacting their quality of life— mentally, emotionally, and physically. After listening to their full story, I’ll move on to specific questions, such as, “Do you have to wake up multiple times during the night to use the restroom?” These types of questions guide the conversation so I can better understand their experience – from both health and lifestyle perspectives. Fibroid symptoms can be difficult to distinguish as they may seem similar to other conditions, so these types of lifestyle questions allow me to get the bigger picture. I also always encourage my patients to come in to see me with an honest outlook and be ready to share their full story. Urgent urination, fertility issues, and sex life are all important topics I touch on. After the examination portion, I also do a lot of counseling around surgical and non-surgical treatment options to ensure I am recommending treatment options that best fit the individual patient.
What factors do you consider when recommending the Acessa® procedure to a patient?
The Acessa® procedure (Laparoscopic Radiofrequency Ablation) is a great option for a full spectrum of patients, especially those who don’t want an invasive procedure like a hysterectomy. Another factor I consider for potential candidates for the Acessa procedure are those who have had previous treatment and don’t want another invasive procedure, or perhaps have been struggling with symptomatic fibroids for some time now, but really desire to preserve their uterus. However, I encourage all women dealing with symptomatic uterine fibroids to talk to their doctor about treatment options that may be right for them and discuss the risks and benefits of all procedures to determine what may be successful for them.
How can patient symptoms and lifestyle goals impact the uterine fibroid treatment conversation?
Quality of life is a huge factor in determining treatment options. Many women tell me they don’t want their entire life to be centered around their fibroids, which cause them a myriad of conditions like heavy bleeding, pain, bloating, and at a times even difficulty with intimacy. The treatment and lifestyle goals of my patients are of utmost importance when determining what will be the best course of action for treatment.
It is also important to educate patients that a treatment that worked for someone they know may not work for them. I advise my patients that every uterus and fibroid is different, which means each patient should consider treatment that is unique to their symptoms and lifestyle goals. For example, if they are suffering from symptoms of bulk or abnormal uterine bleeding, but want to preserve their uterus, there are pros and cons to each treatment avenue and a rationale for who makes a good candidate for what procedure. There is always an opportunity to educate my patients on the risks and benefits of each treatment option, and for my patients to ask me why or why not they may be a good candidate for a certain procedure.
What can patients expect in terms of an improved quality of life after a minimally invasive operation?
When defining improved quality of life, we tend to observe the measurable outcomes such as heavy menstrual bleeding, the time it takes to get back to productivity post-operation, and the long-term success of these outcomes. From a minimally invasive perspective, the biggest factor is shorter recovery times, which allow for a quicker return to work or normal daily activities. I tell my patients that each person’s recovery is unique, but that one can expect to have an improved quality of life due to fewer days taken away from work and fewer vacation days lost due to their symptoms.
To learn more about the available treatment options for uterine fibroids and find a physician who can help, visit our Physician Finder.
Dr. Hawkins is a paid consultant of Hologic, Inc. for the Acessa procedure
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION The Acessa ProVu system is intended to identify and shrink symptomatic uterine fibroids. The Acessa ProVu system is used by trained physicians during laparoscopic surgery under general anesthesia. Rare but serious risks of this procedure include, but are not limited to, infection, internal injury, blood loss and complications related to laparoscopic surgery and/or general anesthesia. This procedure is not recommended for women who are planning future pregnancy. This information is not medical advice. Please discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor to find out if the Acessa procedure may be right for you.