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A call to improve care for women

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Oct. 7--Few people would argue with her goal: Make sure women get healthcare that is equal to men's. But Dr. Paula A. Johnson knows she is in for a long struggle that requires big changes from the highest reaches of the federal government to the individual primary-care physicians treating women across the country.

Three decades after "Our Bodies, Ourselves" focused attention on women's health needs, the Brigham and Women's Hospital cardiologist argues that women's bodies remain a medical mystery. Why do women's heart attack symptoms differ from men's? Why are more young women getting lung cancer even when they don't smoke? Why do so many female athletes suffer devastating knee injuries? Neither researchers nor doctors on the front line know, she says, and "that's just the tip of the iceberg." Don't get her started on the difference between men's and women's brains.

"We need to really understand the very basic nature of the biology of women. We haven't really focused on it or thought about it very much," says Johnson, executive director of the Connors Center for Women's Health and Gender Biology.

Johnson's practice brings together doctors from different disciplines to integrate the latest research on women's health, while her Women's Health Policy and Advocacy Program pushes for more attention to women's health in state and federal governments.

Johnson, who received her MD from Harvard and has been named one of Boston's top doctors by Boston Magazine, says she has received enormous support from the medical community for raising the profile of women's health.

But Johnson is a realist. "I'm not going to sound grand. It's hard work," she says, "It's really about doing the science differently, doing the clinical care differently. We're talking about a paradigm shift."


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