A Woman Who Cares for Women

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When Catherine Zelner was a student at Massachusetts’s Mount Holyoke College in the early ’80s, she never expected to follow in her fathers footsteps as an obstetrician/gynecologist. Immersed in a highly liberal, academic environment, she majored in English and wanted to become a writer. However, a year after graduation, she was lured back into the familiar world of medicine.

“I was very idealistic, and I thought I could find my way in this position,” Dr. Zelner said. “This job [as a doctor] would give me a way to do good things with my life.”

Some 20 years later, Dr. Zelner’s idealism motivated her to establish a private practice, which she opened a few months ago in Plaza Venezia.

“The type of practice that I wanted to establish would provide personal care and sensitivity to women’s issues,” she said. “Going on my own was a way to regain control in providing care the way I think it should be provided.”

Dr. Zelner believes a small practice treats patients with more efficiency and accuracy, as well as offers a physicians personal attention.

“Some big practices are like baby factories – patients wait an hour to be seen, and then are rushed through a two-minute exam,” she said. “When someone comes into my office, they know they will be well taken care of.”

In addition to obstetrics, Dr. Zelner provides gynecological care for females ranging in age from teen-agers to geriatric patients. She is especially interested in adolescent gynecology and care of menopausal women. She treats a number of mothers and daughters and sees a medical benefit in caring for members of the same family.

Adolescents appreciate Dr. Zelner’s sensitivity. She takes the time to talk to a teen-age patient before an exam to familiarize her with procedures, discuss health issues, answer questions, and, most impor-tantly, calm anxieties.

“For many [adolescent patients], going to the gynecologist is the worst thing they can imagine,” she said.

“They feel very vulnerable. We create an environment that they feel comfortable in.”

Dr. Zelner is a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Society for Adolescent Gynecology, which provides her with continuing education on health issues that affect teen-agers.

Preventive care is important, and Dr. Zelner encourages young women – even those who have no known gynecological problems – to undergo a pelvic examination by age 18, or earlier if they are sex-ually active. She also will discuss with them their physical changes, choices they have, and different consequences of their actions.

Dr. Zelner also stresses the importance of preventive care for women facing menopause. In addition to routine tests and screening for gynecological cancers, she encourages patients to be screened for osteoporosis, which is a debilitating bone disorder. A noninvasive procedure using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, which is called a DEXA Scan, of the spine and hips, indicates a predisposition for osteoporosis, and measures can be taken to forestall it.

She educates patients about heart disease, which is more prevalent than cancer, and routinely checks cholesterol levels. Family histories give her insight on diseases and conditions patients may face in the future, and she works closely with primary-care physicians to be familiar with other medical problems patients have and to ensure they stay up-to-date on immunizations and tests like mammograms and colonoscopies.

“Health care can be very fragmented with no continuity,” Dr. Zelner said. “Part of my responsibility to the patient is to coordinate her overall care. I am a physician who really cares. I want to give women good care.”

Dr. Zelner believes a big part of good health care is listening to the patient. While trained in conventional medicine to look at a patient’s anatomy and biological causes for diseases, Dr. Zelner also has an open mindedness to look at the whole person. She feels physical diseases can be manifestations of emotional issues, such as stress. Some patients may have a genetic disposition for a disease, and lifestyle can bring it on sooner.

“An unsolved emotional wound – if not taken care of – can become a real disease,” Dr. Zelner said. “The pain is real.”

When appropriate, Dr. Zelner offers women alternative choices, including physical and herbal therapies. When necessary, she also is prepared to treat women with minimally invasive surgeries and expressed excitement about advances in surgical care. Laproscopic surgeries with small incisions shorten recovery times. Endometrial ablation – removing the lining of the uterus – has greatly reduced the need for hysterectomies. Studies have shown that ovaries still function past menopause, and surgeons are now leaving ovaries if they are healthy.

“Twenty years ago, surgeons routinely took everything in a hysterectomy,” Dr. Zelner said. “[Leaving the ovaries] is an advancement in women’s health. Surgeons have looked back at customary procedures and said, ‘Let’s educate ourselves as best we can with current information.'”

Before entering obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Zelner considered becoming a surgeon.

“I loved surgery, but women’s health is truly satisfying,” she said.

During the last year of her residency in Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio State College of Medicine graduate worked 70 hours per week while pregnant with twins. She laughed and said this was an improvement over the 110 hours per week she worked during the preceding two years.

Prior to moving to Orlando in 1999, Dr. Zelner opened and maintained a birthing center in Springfield, Ohio, that primarily cared for indigent women. Her responsibilities included training nurses and midwives in the center’s progressive birthing techniques, such as hydrotherapy. Educating patients on how to care for themselves during pregnancy also was a priority.

“The birthing center was such a model of care,” Dr. Zelner said. “We worked for 10 years making childbirth a celebration and not a medical issue.”