WBAMC takes whole approach to women's health
Lily Ramirez, a nurse practitioner in the Department of Women's Health at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, works at a computer module in the mammography department of the hospital in El Paso, Texas.

Women's health is striking a chord with providers at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.

At Fort Bliss, Texas -- a growing Army installation home to multiple units taking active roles in overseas deployments -- women both as Soldiers and caretakers are vital for Army readiness.

"So many people think that women's health is breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings," said Lily Ramirez, a nurse practitioner in the Department of Women's Health at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.

"But no. It's so much more. Women's health includes everything."

A focus on overall well-being -- emotional and physical -- is pushing the Army to look at women's health issues as more than a reminder for the yearly check-ups.

In December 2011, the Army established a Women's Health Task Force to assess the unique needs and concerns of female Soldiers, conduct thorough reviews of current care provided and identify best practices and gaps. Women make up 14 percent of the Army active duty fighting force and 46 percent of the Army-affiliated eligible TRICARE beneficiaries.

From mammograms and Pap Smears to education on sexually transmitted diseases and healthy eating habits, William Beaumont providers want women to take an active approach to their health.

Being ill and ill informed can often go hand in hand, said Dr. Cynthia Hamilton, a family care doctor at the Soldier Family Medical Clinic on Fort Bliss, Texas.

In the past, Hamilton has held well-women group sessions at the SFMC -- a setting, according to Hamilton, in which group members posed more questions than would have been asked during private consultations.

"In the groups, women will tell me things and share things that they wouldn't share in a one-on-one basis," Hamilton said.

Opening those doors for communication is important, especially when it comes to health, Hamilton said.

"It's surprising how little people actually know about sexually transmitted diseases," said Kelly Pierce, registered nurse with Army Public Health Nursing at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.

Pierce said raising awareness is the ultimate goal for preventive medicine. The HPV vaccine -- a series of vaccinations given to young women as young as 9 years old -- can prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV) types that cause most cervical cancers. These vaccines are Cervarix (GlaxoSmithKline) and Gardasil (Merck). Both vaccines are given in three shots over six months.

Every year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from this disease in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pierce-Gonzalez noted that an HPV vaccine has even been developed and is available for young men.

"Because boys can give the HPV virus to girls," Pierce said.

Understanding sex education and STD information is important for women of all ages, said Hamilton who even stresses the importance among teenage girls.

As a volunteer Girl Scout leader for the past five years, Hamilton said she is stunned at the misinformation that teens perpetuate about sex and sexually transmitted diseases.

"The things that kids just don't know," Hamilton said.

But physical health is only part of the issue. Hamilton's "Girl Talk" presentation -- a well-woman group concept focused on teens -- attempts to get young women thinking about the emotional challenges of physical intimacy.

And into adulthood, emotional well-being plays a vital part for women who are primary caregivers while their husbands are deployed.

"There's just so much in women's health and it can affect the entire family," Ramirez said referring to caretaker fatigue or distress -- when women saddled with worries for their loved ones neglect their own health. This sets a negative precedence that children and family members can imitate and follow.

According to Ramirez, women's health is a call for "back to basics" -- asking female Soldiers and military spouses to ask themselves "are you caring for yourself?"

For more information on women's health, visit the Army Medicine website at www.armymedicine.army.mil.

Page last updated Wed May 30th, 2012 at 11:05