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Defining Moments Propel Internist to Conquer 'the Change'

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Angela DeRosa, DO, MBA, CPE, was among the 1% of women who experience menopause before the age of 40 at a time when little was known about hormone therapy and few people were discussing the topic of menopause.

There are defining moments in everyone’s life. For internal medicine physician Angela DeRosa, DO, MBA, CPE, there have been several. The first occurred when she was 12-years old, and it shaped her destiny for years to come.

“I was in Chicago with my grandmother at the Chicago Science and Industry Museum,” DeRosa recalls. “It was magnificent, and it had a really cool exhibit of a heart. And this heart was about 10 feet high, which seems really high when you’re a child, and you can walk through the chambers, and I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. It was one of those moments when I said ‘yeah, this is what I want to do.’”

And she has never deviated from that course.

Uncommon burden

DeRosa’s second defining moment lasted, unfortunately, for longer than brief moments in time should. As if medical school wasn’t challenging enough, she found herself in the unenviable category of the 1% of women who experience menopause before the age of 40. And 20 years ago, not only was very little known about hormone therapy, but menopause was a topic not often discussed.

To say she was frustrated and confused is an understatement.

“There was very little information available, and I didn’t really figure out what was happening to me until it was 20/20 hindsight,” DeRosa says. “By the time I figured it out, and found good mentors, I thought I was going crazy. Other physicians and colleagues in my own profession made me feel like I was crazy. I was seeing cardiologists. I was having cognition issues and migraines. I was going through residency, and it was draining from an energy standpoint. But it seemed out of proportion from my colleagues. It was just a very frustrating time.”

But it also defined her career going forward.

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“It destroyed my first marriage, and it was hard to learn at the time because of the cognition issues,” she says. “But I made it through, and I think it made me a better person … a better doctor. But it wasn’t easy.”

The change

Fast forward, and DeRosa has devoted her life and work to helping women before, after, and through what she calls “the change.” Her friends and colleagues affectionately call her Dr. Hot Flash, and her practice focuses on hormonal health to help women and men from age 18 to 88. But ask her if women today are better off, are being provided with more reliable information to manage menopause, and she’s equivocal.

“Yes and no,” she says. “I think the thing that’s getting better is we’re talking about it now. And also, women are becoming better educated in desperately searching for information. They’re not willing to accept the traditional answer: It’s all in your head. They’re continuing that journey. Women are demanding information, but there’s a lack of good information. And the media is scaring women and men because they’re reporting all the negative research, which isn’t valid.”

To help fill that void, DeRosa has published How Your Doctor is Slowly Killing You: A Women’s Health Survival Guide. The book is helping to generate many conversations among her patients and within the medical community. But she has also taken her share of criticism.

“There are some societies that don’t want me to speak any more,” she says. “I’ve hit a nerve with them.”

But her patients love it.

“Women love the book,” she says. “It has given them a voice, which is exactly the audience I was looking for. If you want to change something in medicine, doctors aren’t going to make it happen. Patients are going to make it happen, and women have very loud voices.”

Happy hour

To assist in providing a medium for those voices, DeRosa holds quarterly Hormonal Happy Hours for patients, their friends, and the general public. Admission is free.

There, women can eat, drink, laugh, and talk openly about love, libido, their bodies, and health issues of concern. DeRosa will speak briefly, sharing her personal experiences and providing information, and then she opens the floor to questions and discussion.

“That’s the part that is the most fun,” Derosa says. “It’s also the most illuminating because you can hear some of the desperation in the questions, and the misinformation that people have been fed. But women are very comfortable talking about their experiences in front of other women. We attempted to do this with men, and nobody signed up. Because men don’t want to get up and talk about erections in front of other men, but women will gladly get up and talk about lack of sexuality, libido, their hot flashes … it’s kind of like safety in numbers, and misery likes company.”

DeRosa also devotes her attention beyond the US borders. In 2011, with the assistance of the K2 Adventures Foundation, she opened a freestanding medical facility in Tanzania, the Mwereni Integrated School for the Blind. The school educates more than 600 children ages 5 through 18.

“You can only do so much when you go there one time,” DeRosa explains. “The beauty is having ongoing, continuous care, which is being provided from funding through K2 Adventures Foundation. Here in the US, we don’t know poverty like they do in the rest of the world. It’s part of our mission as a medical practice to give back.”

A place of joy

DeRosa says the best part of the work she does is helping patients feel better.

“Medicine is so dreary most of the time,” she says. “When we walk into our office, it’s a place of joy. We’ve created an environment to empower patients to learn.”

She’s also very proud of the role she has played in helping young physicians and nurses learn and become excited about medicine, and then watching as they grow and move on.

“I get to be part of that as well, which is really awesome,” she says.


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