This Women’s Health Week Our Physicians took A Stroll Down the Beach

Overlooking the Santa Monica coastline, four treating women physicians at Saint John’s Hospital and Cancer Institute chat at a local favorite, Perry’s Café, at their ocean front location. Janie Grumley, MD, Jennifer Linehan, MD, Hyo Park, MD, and Shanti Gowrinathan, MD advocate for women’s health in a sit-down discussion by elucidating the uniqueness that a multi-disciplinary approach has on improving the quality of life for women overall.

Meet Women’s Health Experts

Janie Grumley, MD, Jennifer Linehan, MD, Hyo Park, MD, and Shanti Gowrinathan, MD chat by Santa Monica Pier, May 2024.

Are Women’s Health Matters Relevant?

Not so long ago, women had no idea about the health of their own bodies. To provide more context of how women’s health conditions and treatments have developed in recent years, and the impact the words of our physicians have on the topic, we divest.

Three decades ago, in 1993, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) passed a Revitalization Act which required women and racial/ethnic minorities to be included in NIH funded clinical research. Prior to this act, women were excluded from participating in all clinical trials. Which means, all health care conditions, diagnosis, and treatments were extrapolated from men’s health conditions regardless of their anatomical and hormonal differences. In 2016, the NIH passed another policy indicating sex was a biological variable to be factored into studies involving humans and animals. What was shown is, biological sex differences mattered when designing studies and research questions, from the early stages of developing and all the way through analyzing the results.

“It’s like I have to re-educate women what is normal and what is a potential health problem.”

– Dr. Hyo Park

Further, research discovered that the sex you’re assigned at birth impacts your overall health. Until women become part of clinical studies it was previously thought the Y chromosome (male) contained enough DNA to code for the generation of tests and their sex hormones. After women entered the studies, a huge discovery was made; every cell has a sex, and “genes from the sex chromosomes are expressed in all tissues of the body, including those of the immune system and the brain.” Thereby, different diseases affect males and females differently.

Even so, women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are still underrepresented in earliest phases of clinical trials, where men make up 64.1 percent of subjects studied.

Women and people AFAB have a higher risk of breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, heart disease, urinary tract infections, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety. It’s important for women to continue to advocate for themselves in the healthcare space, ask the hard questions, and search for related clinical trials, or ask for a clinical trial to be designed for them. Women, and especially women of color, have a long history with healthcare disparities, leading to undiagnosed and misdiagnosed conditions.

“Women tend to assume that quality of life is optional… Having continuity of care is important, and to pass patients back and forth and to make sure the doctors are talking to each other, which I think is indispensable when you’re talking about treating women, because they don’t always advocate for their own care,” says Dr. Gowrinathan.

Since women have partaken in research studies, we’ve learned that sex begins in the womb, sex affects your behavior and perception, and sex affects your health. “… we know that hormones affect every body system. They’re going to affect your vaginal, how you are able to pee, affect the way you think, and your bone density…If we make it easy for them to get care for all those body systems and make it less of a burden, I think that’s the nicest thing we can do for someone who is going through this massive change,” says Dr. Gowrinathan.

Recently, it’s been shown that women who are treated by women physicians have a higher rate of living longer, with lower mortality rates. “It’s so empowering…a group of women taking care of women’s issues,” says Dr. Park on having the capability to rely on other specialists who are also women.

Saint John’s Health Center and Saint John’s Cancer Institute Approach to Women’s Health

With women’s health being at the center of our community in Santa Monica, California we take great pride that are health and wellness programs, such as the Women’s Health and Wellness Institute, and the Margie Petersen Breast Center, are at the heart of our hospital: both under the direction of women. Dr. Janie Grumley is the director of the Margie Petersen Breast Center, and Dr. Tiffany Grunwald is the director of the Women’s Health and Wellness Institute.

“I love that at Saint John’s that we really focus on the women. We ask the questions, right? We ask how they are doing, how it feels, how the treatment is impacting their lives. And that’s unique because that really is the focus of Saint John’s.”

– Dr. Janie Grumley

Whether you are looking for functional medicine, reproductive care, or cancer care, Saint John’s Health Center and Saint John’s Cancer Institute respectively support and treat the life and well-being of all women, across all ages so nothing goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. “There’s this philosophy, especially in gynecology, that if women are not complaining about it, or are ‘asymptomatic,’ you leave it alone. There are so many, even benign pathologies, that miss this window of opportunity for meaningful clinical treatment because we just leave it up to the woman. Most of the time, it gets ignored that’s what happens, until it’s too late,” says Dr. Park.

Our hospital provides brain health, heart health, reproductive and gynecologic health, urologic health, breast health, dermatology, mental health, a robust genetics program, and more. With active and enrolling clinical trials at Saint John’s Cancer Institute, women looking for extra care for life threatening diagnosis and conditions are encouraged to ask their primary care physicians if a clinical trial is right for them. See active and enrolling clinical trials here.

These four women, even though they have vastly different training and expertise often do work together in the clinic to maximum the quality of life of all our patients, and especially our women.

“I think our patients are extra lucky. I feel like we got our women patients covered from every angle, and all of us care about our patients, a lot,”

– Dr. Jennifer Linehan

Shanthi Gowrinathan, MD - Psychiatrist Janie Grumley, MD, FACS Dr. Jennifer Linehan Hyo K. Park, MD
Shanthi Gowrinathan, MD
, Director of Psycho-oncology and Cancer Support Services, Saint John’s Health Center
Janie Grumley, MD, FACS, Breast Surgical Oncologist and Director, Comprehensive Breast Program, Margie Petersen Breast Center
Dr. Jennifer Linehan, Associate Professor of Urology & Urologic Oncology, Director of Urology Translational Research at Saint John’s Cancer Institute
Hyo K. Park, MD, Women’s Health and Wellness Institute, Saint John’s Health Center


About the Author

Eleanor Zeri