“How can I get my doctor to believe me when I tell him how bad my menopause symptoms are?”… “Within the past few months, I have gotten the dreaded night sweats and hot flashes. Any thoughts on over-the-counter remedies, or should I make an appointment to see my primary care physician?”… “Does menopause have anything to do with a low sex drive?” … “I feel so bad all the time now. I just can’t seem to get motivated. I wake up tired and go to bed tired. Help, please!”
Women from across the United States and around the world—Iraq, Canada, Spain, South America, and elsewhere—pose such questions to menopause expert Joan Starker every day on WebMD, a website that provides comprehensive health resources for consumers and the medical community. And she welcomes their queries.
“WebMD gives me an unusual opportunity to provide a ‘virtual office’ to the world,” Starker says, “offering information on menopause for those who find it difficult to raise issues in person or who live in remote areas with little access to good health care information.”
Starker’s invaluable contribution to the field has been widely recognized. She recently received the North American Menopause Society 2005 NAMS/Mission Pharmacal Company Education Excellence Award, recognizing a consumer health educator among the NAMS membership who has made a significant contribution toward improving the quality of life of peri- and postmenopausal women. Joan gratefully received the award at a ceremony in San Diego. “It was the perfect time for the award as I had just turned 60.”
No coincidence, this: Starker, who received a MSW from Hunter College of Social Work, a MPA from Lewis and Clark College and a PhD in Urban Studies from Portland State University, says her interest in menopause increased, naturally enough, with her own experience. “When I entered perimenopause, I was struck by the lack of appropriate information on the subject. In fact, menopause was considered a medical condition—even cloaked in shame—and certainly not viewed as a natural phase of life. I was appalled by the image of menopausal women in our society as ‘used up’ and ‘over the hill.’ I knew I had to work on changing the image of older women.”
And go to work Starker most definitely has done. In addition to her WebMD work, she has run a private psychotherapy practice for many years, specializing in midlife, menopause and aging issues as well as the typical clinical problems of depression, grief, anxiety and sexual health; led numerous discussion groups and workshops on menopause and other age-related issues; made presentations on topics ranging from “Dealing with Uncertainty” to “Women in Midlife”; and been published in professional journals and popular magazines.
“Back in the late 1980’s, I facilitated my first menopause discussion group at a local hospital. The few women present were embarrassed about attending; they didn’t even want the word ‘menopause’ to remain on the classroom door! Four years later, that same discussion group was packed with women hungry to learn and eager to take control of their lives. We’ve come a long way.”
Sarah Lawrence figured prominently in the growth and wisdom of Starker. “We need to have strong, positive models of older women, and I always had those at Sarah Lawrence. Even now, I can picture the extraordinary [former] Sarah Lawrence president, Esther Raushenbush.
“I felt so honored to have had such a unique, creative and individualized education. I loved the emphasis on reading primary sources, the conference and donning system, and the focus on writing rather than exams. Years later, when I taught a graduate course on adult development, I followed the Sarah Lawrence model, interspersing literature with psychology articles and never using a textbook.”
This upbeat go-getter brims with optimism in all she undertakes, especially when it comes to helping women. “It’s wonderful to be honored for work I really love to do: empowering women to take charge of their health care and make a difference in their lives.”
Questions of your own? Joan Starker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.