By Stephanie Davis | Photo by Jim Baron
The nationally recognized leader in women’s health, who has a lengthy accomplishments list that includes serving as professor at Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University and prior leadership roles for the North American Menopause Society and the National Osteoporosis Foundation, views such responsibilities as integral to her overall role as an advocate for women’s health.
So it’s only natural that her leadership approach to women’s medicine would eventually lead to a ground-breaking plan via the Cleveland Clinic that she spearheaded – a plan that came to fruition in 2002.
“We saw a need to move beyond departmental and organizational system lines and make a comprehensive midlife women’s health center,” Dr. Thacker says. Formally known as the Cleveland Clinic Center for Specialized Women’s Health, it staffs a team of interdisciplinary physicians and nurses for allied health.
As director of the center, she says, “We opened even before they were doing such a business model (in any other capacity) at Cleveland Clinic.” The center targets concerns of women in some stage of midlife, mostly ranging in age from 40s to 60s. “The idea is that these women can expect to live healthier as they reach older ages if you take care of them in midlife.”
To her knowledge, Dr. Thacker, who also leads the Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Health Fellowship, has the honors of being the first physician (and professor) at the Clinic to start such a center. It’s said to be one of the first interdisciplinary women’s health centers in the country – a place to offer comprehensive specialty care for women in one location. “There’s a wide spectrum of specialties covered: ob-gyn, internal medicine, endocrinology, a panoply of breast cancer specialists, and more,” she says.
A popular feature of the center is the CustomFit physical for women, instead of the traditional “executive physical.” “Though women need physicals, they don’t need the masculine approach. For our CustomFit physicals for women, we offer concierge service,” Dr. Thacker says. “For the busy woman, everything can be coordinated for her; she doesn’t have to make the appointment.” The patient works with a trusted nurse advocate to handle and coordinate all scheduling.
Also available at the center are mammography services, bone density scans, various gynecologic procedures, incontinence evaluations, and sexual function evaluations. “Importantly, the center reaches all women – those who have careers, those who are home raising children, those who are caregiving for elderly family, and more.”
Dr. Thacker says her years in the profession and her special interest in menopause, osteoporosis, hormone therapy (to name a few) have led to a deeper appreciation of where women’s health services may be lacking – and the center is designed to fill such gaps.
A common scenario involves professional women entering midlife who are confused about hormone treatment. “Many women who have untreated hot flashes at midlife fall off the work ladder – they can’t sleep and they can’t function well,” Dr. Thacker says. In many cases, they are not given treatment or the right advice.
Addressing this issue, she says, “With my vast clinical experience and being a witness to the results of the long-term national Women’s Health Initiative (a research program), I can say that the results (pertaining specifically to hormone therapy) are unscientifically disseminated. It’s a crushing blow to women. Those who lose hormones need hormone therapy. A lot of women at the peak of their careers and in their lives — many become hormonally deficient and need treatment. That service of therapy at the center alone is worth its weight.”
Bladder leakage is yet another area the center takes seriously, according to Dr. Thacker, who says, the center is the first in the area to offer pelvic stimulating devices to treat pelvic floor problems and leakage without need for surgery.
“We’re at the forefront of a lot of therapies for women — contraceptives, breast cancer risk assessment options, nonhysterectomy alternatives, and heavy menstrual bleeding,” she says. “We are always interested in looking at the whole person and collaborating with different fields and studies.”
Yet another significant accomplishment of Dr. Thacker’s is called Speaking of Women’s Health, a health education program affiliated with the Center that has a social media bent, catering to LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook audiences. Its website is speakingofwomenshealth.com.
“This national program is all about robust social media,” Dr. Thacker, the executive director of the program, says. “We offer a free monthly newsletter, free health tips, and ‘edutainment’ conferences around the country, including Northeast Ohio.” Events include health screenings and provide information in a fun, interactive method rather than the traditional patient education medical lecture format.
For Dr. Thacker, the author of two books on women’s health, including the “Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause,” her desire is for the center and social media platform to be at the forefront of women’s health, “interfacing with community, with the medical profession, and with academia. It is my ongoing goal to try to revolutionize health care and women’s needs through these offerings,” she says.
When she’s not dedicating her life and time to bettering women’s health, Dr. Thacker’s nonmedical life focuses on involvement in her local community.
As an elected public official she serves as a Cuyahoga Heights school board member and notes how she had some involvement in the process that led to the discovery of millions of dollars embezzled within one Cuyahoga County school.
She sees her community efforts as a suitable tie-in to her professional career. “As a physician trained to deal with crises, I can do a differential diagnosis and make sure we are thinking about the worst scenario medically. Likewise, with the local government, we were stepping into a crisis situation and my leadership skills proved helpful. It’s good to give back to the community,” the mother of three sons who graduated from the Cuyahoga Heights system adds.