“I’ve always been inspired by people who go against the grain, people who are willing to take risks on behalf of humanity — the Mother Theresas of the World, and the Nelson Mandelas. The actions of people like that say a lot about the human spirit, and the ability of a single individual to make a difference.”
— Dr. Laurie Zephyrin
|Dr. Laurie Zephyrin is VA’s new (and first ever) National Director for Reproductive Health.|
As part of its increasing focus on women’s health issues, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has hired its very first National Director for Reproductive Health, Dr. Laurie Zephyrin.
“We have an increasing number of women coming into the VA health care system,” Zephyrin said, “and the majority of them are of childbearing age. VA understands that our women Veterans have special health care needs across their lifespan.”
The Team, The Mission
“I work with a great team here at the Women Veterans Health Strategic Healthcare Group, which is led by Dr. Patricia Hayes,” she continued. “We’re all working together toward one common goal: making sure women Veterans have access to quality health care services.”
Some of the efforts Zephyrin will be involved in include making sure women with abnormal mammograms receive prompt follow-up attention, closely following cervical cancer trends among women Veterans, educating providers and staff regarding various maternity issues, and tracking birth outcomes in women Veterans. She’ll also be developing training for emergency room providers so they can effectively triage and treat urgent problems in women — problems like abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain and problems in early pregnancy.
“These women served our country,” Zephyrin said. “They sacrificed. So we have an obligation to make sure they’re receiving the best health care we can possibly give them.”
Sounds like a pretty big job, and it is. But that doesn’t mean Zephyrin spends all her time in a Washington, D.C. office, formulating policy.
“I live in New York,” she said. “I practice at the Manhattan VA (Medical Center), so I have a local role, and a national role. I think it’s helpful, in terms of developing national policy, to have a local perspective. It’s good to hear directly from our patients concerning what types of services they need.”
Zephyrin grew up in the New York borough of Queens, the daughter of parents who came to the United States from Haiti in the early 1970s.
“My father is a retired elementary school teacher,” she said. “My mother is a nurse. They were good parents…and they were both always interested in giving back to the community. That’s what I saw growing up: two parents who were always trying to help people.”
During her high school years Zephyrin got involved in an after-school program that brought her into contact with a variety of health care professionals who also performed community service work.
“One day this woman, a social worker, came and spoke to us — myself and the other students — about the work she was doing with crack-addicted babies,” Zephyrin said. “She talked about drugs and their impact on pregnant women, how many of these women give birth to sick, premature babies. At one point she held out her hand to us. She told us that some of those babies were smaller than her hand.
“At that moment I decided to become a doctor — a doctor who takes care of women. I felt by having a positive impact on the health of women, I could have a positive impact on communities.”
Zephyrin comes to her new job with some impressive credentials. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences, cum laude, from City College of New York; an MD from New York University School of Medicine, and two masters’ degrees — one in public health and another in business administration, both from Johns Hopkins University.
She completed her residency work at Harvard’s Integrated Residency Training Program in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital-Massachusetts General Hospital.
Zephyrin’s resume also includes time spent at Johns Hopkins as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, and as a physician in the Gynecology and Obstetrics Department at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. It was during this period that she launched two separate studies — one to evaluate the overall quality of life of HIV patients, the other to evaluate the delivery of timely cervical cancer screening to HIV-infected women.
“My real passion is improving the delivery of medical services to underserved, vulnerable populations,” Zephyrin said. “Those populations include women across the globe.”
True to her passion, Zephyrin became involved, some time ago, in something called the Eritrean Women’s Project.
The entire country has less than 10 OB/GYNs in the East African country, so Zephyrin and other doctors teamed up with Eritrea’s Ministry of Health and the United Nations Population Fund to try and help out.
“We worked with their OB/GYNs, students, nurses and technicians,” she said. “We gave them training in ultrasound and other techniques critical to improving maternal health. It’s an exciting process to be a part of.
“Everyone has different things that sustain them and keep them moving forward,” she added. “My thing is giving back to the community in as many ways as I can.”
But does VA’s National Director for Reproductive Health ever get a chance to just kick back and relax a little? Go to a movie? Play a little air hockey??
“After a busy day I’ll go home and watch a re-run of Law and Order,” she said. “I love Law and Order.”