With an impeccable French accent, professor Mary Minkin MED ’75, a physician who has taught at the School of Medicine for over 37 years, declared, “Madame Ovary, c’est moi!”
Minkin, who is a clinical professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive sciences and a teacher to residents at Yale New Haven Hospital, manages a popular blog called “Madame Ovary,” where she writes about menopause, gynecology and sexual health for women. The idea for the blog’s name budded out of an interest in Gustave Flaubert during her time as an undergraduate at Brown University, where she majored in biology and minored in French. Minkin has since devoted part of her career to inform people — through her blog and the seven books she has written — about gynecology and sexual health.
“As I tell my residents: You can know the most wonderful stuff in the world, but if it doesn’t get out to patients, what are you doing?” Minkin said.
Minkin has been named a “Top Doc” by Connecticut Magazine for three years and has been a member of the Society of Distinguished Teachers at the Yale School of Medicine since 2002.
As a child, Minkin exhibited an early interest in medicine, and later went on to attend the Yale School of Medicine. Her parents, who were a teacher and an engineer, were supportive of her professional aspirations, though she would soon realize that this was not the case for most women growing up at her time.
“The class that entered medical school [at Yale] in 1970 had seven women. That was it. In the year I started medical school, which was 1971, there were 20 of us in the class, and then the next year it went to 30, and now we have parity,” she said.
According to Minkin, new developments in OB-GYN were taking place at the same time that Yale was becoming an increasingly inclusive space for women, which made her experience as a student all the more exciting. “Electronic fetal monitoring started at Yale … the first in vitro baby was born while I was in my residency program … a lot of things were happening at that point,” she said.
Minkin developed an affinity for OB-GYN doing rounds in medical school. She was drawn by the prospect of both diagnosing and operating, and thought that, as a woman, she could understand her patients on a more personal level. But despite the prestige of Yale’s OB-GYN program, the specialty was often looked down on back then within the medical realm, Minkin said.
“When I was in medical school, OB-GYN was considered a specialty of idiots … Women were not valued as human beings, [and] there was an idea that it was okay to be a second-rate person to take care of second-rate people,” she said. “When I announced that I was going to be doing an OB-GYN residency instead of [internal] medicine, most of my faculty outside of OB-GYN said ‘you know all the dummies go into OB-GYN!’”
Minkin said people’s perception of OB-GYN has changed significantly since her days as a student.
Upon realizing that the sexual health of people who had battled with cancer was not being sufficiently addressed, Minkin started a Sexuality, Intimacy and Menopause program for cancer survivors at the Smilow Cancer Hospital together with associate professor of OB-GYN and physician Elena Ratner.
“These are patients who have had their needs ignored for such a long time, and it’s just really gratifying to work with them,” Minkin told the News.
On Madame Ovary, Minkin also posts informative videos for cancer survivors to debunk the myth that once you have cancer, you can no longer have a normal sexual life. “I want [the videos] to be out there and available for everybody anywhere,” she said, “so that they don’t have to say ‘okay that part of my life is over.’ No it’s not!”
With her blog, Minkin hopes to combat misinformation surrounding sexual and gynecological concepts that often runs rampant not only for cancer survivors, but also across society in general. Minkin emphasized the need for more dialogue about sexual health to dispel the notion that sex is a taboo topic of conversation.
Both in her blog and in conversation, Minkin also articulates vehement critiques against recent transformations in the field of medicine, having described electronic medical records as “the bane of [her] existence,” and Medicare for All as “horrible.”
“[Medicine] has become horribly bureaucratic. It’s nowhere near as autonomous as it was,” Minkin said. “[Change] has got to happen through the doctors and it is going to be hard work … I am going to keep helping. But I’m not going to be here forever, so [the next generation] has to take on the mantle and be the ones to fight this.”
The Sexuality, Intimacy and Menopause program for cancer survivors at the Smilow Cancer Hospital was one of the first in the United States to provide sexual health services for patients who have lived with cancer.
Maria Fernanda Pacheco | firstname.lastname@example.org