When people think of women’s health, they tend to think of “bikini medicine”—health care for the parts of the body related to women’s reproductive systems, says Justina Trott, MD, FACP, a senior fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico.
But Trott knows better.
Women’s health, she says, differs from men’s health throughout the entire body—not just the parts covered by bikinis. “Even organs that look the same often respond differently to injury, illness and treatment, and that has important ramifications for our health,” Trott notes.
Women’s socially assigned roles also affect their health in different ways, she adds. Women in some parts of the world, for example, are more likely to cook over wood-burning fires, which puts them at greater risk for certain kinds of lung disease. Women also are more likely to live in poverty and suffer from related health problems. “Gender is a social determinant of health,” she says.
Trott has been putting these messages into medical practice for nearly two decades at Women’s Health Services (WHS) in Santa Fe, N.M., where she has served as a clinician, medical director and, until 2009, as executive director.
During her tenure, she helped lead an initiative to create a state-level office on women’s health; chaired a governor’s advisory council on women’s health; and spent a year in Washington, D.C., in the office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico as an RWJF Health Policy Fellow (2008-2009), where she worked on drafts of the Affordable Care Act.
She is now a senior fellow and co-director of the Women’s Health Policy Unit at the RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico.
Her pioneering work in “sex and gender medicine” and in women’s health policy earned her the Women’s Health Leadership Award from Women’s Health Services earlier this year. The award recognizes “established leaders who advance excellent skillful care for women” and highlights women’s health programs in northern New Mexico. Winners were selected by the center’s board of directors.
Trott received the award for her role in transforming Women’s Health Services (WHS) from a small community health center to a major metropolitan practice that uses an innovative model to serve insured, underinsured and uninsured patients. It also recognizes her work in health policy.
She received the award on May 10—a day leading up to National Women’s Health Week—at a WHS fundraising gala that was attended by more than 100 people, including Santa Fe Mayor David Coss.
“Justina’s visionary thinking about how the health care system can better serve women and their families has made her a national leader in the field of Women’s Health,” Coss said at the event. “Justina continually challenges us all to imagine new ways of thinking in the delivery of health care. We are honored by Justina’s work as we honor her with this award.”
Elspeth Bobbs, a nanogenarian in Santa Fe, also sang Trott’s praises. “As a patient and friend of Dr. Justina Trott for 20-plus years, and as a committed supporter of reproductive choice for all, WHS provides an important role in health care for Santa Fe women,” Bobbs said.
Trott said the award is meaningful because it honors her hard work to create an accessible community health center and to sustain it through challenging financial times.
Indeed, Trott helped transform the center into a family practice that provides a full spectrum of primary and behavioral health care services for thousands of patients, including medically indigent men, women and children. It has been federally designated as one of 16 National Community Centers of Excellence in Women’s Health.
In her new role, Trott is devoting her time to education and health policy. She is preparing to teach a course in women’s health and to conduct lectures for the departments of medicine and women’s studies.
She is also working to create a women’s health certificate that can be earned by students representing multiple disciplines. And she is in the process of forming the Women-Centered Policy and Programs Partnership, which aims to bring together New Mexico groups to influence policy and to attract funding for medical research.