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Lifestyles over 50

Women Over 50 Need Regular GYN Exams

Oct 10, 2023 04:12PM ● By Mary DeHaven, St. Luke's University Health Network
Many older women stop seeing their gynecologist after their childbirth years. Rachel O’Connell, MD, of St. Luke’s OB/GYN, cautions them that many gynecological issues arise before, during, and after menopause.

As a gynecologist, Dr. O’Connell diagnoses and treats conditions involving the female reproductive system. She sees patients in Allentown, Macungie, Palmerton, and Tamaqua.
“A few times every day, I encounter someone who hasn’t seen an OB/GYN for several years,” she says. “Their OB/GYN retired; they thought they no longer needed yearly exams; or they just put it off. I tell them, ‘Better late than never, because bad things can happen when people put off their GYN visits.’”

For example, she has seen patients diagnosed with advanced breast and ovarian cancer that would have been more treatable if identified earlier during a routine annual exam.

“One message I would like to convey is that women should feel empowered to prioritize care for themselves,” she says. “They should make sure they see their doctors routinely.”

Dr. O’Connell’s clinical interests include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids, chronic pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction, LGBTQ health, urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and menopausal medicine.

“I look forward to seeing my patients in the exam room and talking with them one-on-one about their concerns,” she says. “I enjoy hearing their life stories. I’m an advisor and educator. I’m here to empower patients by informing them about their conditions and options so they can make the best decisions. Patients know their bodies best.”

Dr. O’Connell particularly likes caring for women with severe and painful endometriosis. Many have seen several doctors who didn’t believe their symptoms were real. Treating them and helping them be and feel better is rewarding. She’s also interested in treating non-binary and transgender individuals, and takes their care very seriously, acknowledging that they have specific needs.

Dr. O’Connell started her professional career as a medical researcher. After graduating with a biomedical engineering degree, she landed a job at the prestigious Duke University Medical Center. Despite her success, however, she heard the call of a different career: the practice of medicine. While at Duke, she had an epiphany. She realized working with patients is what she most liked about her job. Instead of researching medicine, she wanted to practice it.

“While conducting research, I gained personal and professional satisfaction from working with patients and making a positive difference in their lives,” she says.

So, she enrolled in the medical school of Duke’s fiercest rival, the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, just 10 miles down Tobacco Road from Duke’s Durham Campus. At UNC, she found her passion for obstetrics and gynecology. She enjoyed caring for patients during their pregnancies and being there to deliver their babies. Also, the promise of developing relationships with patients over their lifetime attracted her to the profession.

After graduating, Dr. O’Connell completed a four-year residency at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, where she earned her undergraduate degree nearly a decade earlier. There, she obtained high-quality training in high-risk obstetrics and hands-on training in various surgical techniques, including Da Vinci (robotic) assisted hysterectomy. During her residency, she received awards for excellence in academics, research, female pelvic medicine, and minimally-invasive gynecologic surgery.

Having been raised in Hellertown, just south of Bethlehem, after graduation, Dr. O’Connell wanted to find a position closer to home.

“I was drawn to St. Luke’s because of its comradery and concern for its employees’ health and well-being,” she says. “St. Luke’s wants its physicians and other staff to be successful and have a healthy work-life balance. This work-life balance is important because if you can’t refill the cup, you have nothing left to give your patients.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. O’Connell, call in:
Allentown, 484-426-2520
Macungie, 484-822-5103
Palmerton, 272-639-5400
Tamaqua, 484-426-2520
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