Navigating Cultural Identity, Medical Practice, and Menopause: A Journey with Dr. Sameena Rahman

The journey through menopause transition can be laden with cultural stigmas and unique healthcare barriers. Dr. Sameena Rahman, a Chicago-based, board-certified OB-GYN, sexual medicine, and menopause specialist, discusses the critical need for culturally considerate care for women of color and diverse backgrounds.

Dr. Rahman delves into her professional experiences and explores the challenges and breakthroughs in addressing menopause and sexual health for all women.

The Beginnings: Cultural Identity and Family Background

A Pakistani-American Muslim woman born in New York and raised in North Carolina, Dr. Rahman’s parents immigrated from Pakistan in the 1960s during the heart of the civil rights movement.

“I grew up in the South,” she says, recalling her family’s journey. I always tease my dad because he came to America in the ’60s and landed in Mississippi. And it’s like Dad—what the heck?” she laughs. He always reminded us that he was out there marching with everyone and getting pulled over by the police left and right.

Her family eventually settled in North Carolina after her father’s teaching sabbatical in New York. It was there that Dr. Rahman remembers feeling particularly aware of being different.

“I was one of the only brown people in my school, so I experienced it all,” she recalls.

Despite sometimes feeling out of place in her southern habitat, Dr. Rahman has always been proud of her heritage and the values instilled by her immigrant parents. She speaks respectfully of the culture she grew up in while noting immigrant families’ challenges in balancing cultural preservation with adaptation.

This nuanced understanding, based on her lived experience, extends to her work with patients. She’s often able to empathize with their cultural backgrounds and the conflict presented by trying to hold onto one’s culture while adapting to a new one.

Addressing Stigmas and Cultural Sensitivity

For women of color, cultural norms and stigmas can heavily influence their attitudes toward menopause and sexual health. In her Chicago-based private practice, Dr. Rahman specializes in issues related to menopause transition and sexual health.

She treats a broad range of women but acknowledges the unique challenges her diverse patient population faces.

“I get a lot of women of color,” she says, noting that women of color often feel more comfortable seeking her care due to her background.

“The cultural stigmas surrounding menopause are pervasive, she continues. “Some women find it challenging to discuss menopause with family members, while others face additional barriers due to religious or cultural beliefs.”

Dr. Rahman points out that in some cultures, menopause is seen as liberating, especially when the stigma around menses is high.

“Something I see in South Asians, at least, is that because there’s so much stigma around menses for some cultures, for example, they can’t go to temple or to mosque when they’re on their menstrual cycle. So, some of them find menopause to be a very liberating time.”

Even so, she says that not enough women are talking with other women in their families and communities about their experiences or the implications of menopause transition on their overall health. That is why Dr. Rahman is dedicated to educating and advocating for her patients.

I’m here to educate so people can advocate for themselves.”

She talks openly about the benefits of hormone therapy, explaining that patients from communities of color often present additional skepticism about taking hormones. By addressing their concerns and discussing the benefits of hormone therapy for cardiovascular health and osteoporosis, Dr. Rahman helps patients make informed decisions.

“I’m not about patriarchal medicine. If you give women the information they need and educate them, then they can go out and advocate for themselves. Then we can destigmatize some of these things, which we know education could be a backbone for, like preventing potentially devastating conditions as you age,” she says thoughtfully.

“We know that people with uncontrolled vasomotor symptoms have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and mortality in general. So, I think it’s important to understand the connection. You can’t really say hot flashes can’t kill you anymore.”

The Importance of Patient Advocacy and Empowerment

Dr. Rahman has been practicing medicine for 20 years, with the first half of her career spent in academic medical systems, including the University of Southern California, the University of Chicago – North Shore, and Northwestern. She went into private practice about 10 years ago to have greater flexibility in her schedule and focus more on her patients.

“Working in a hospital-based system, I saw an average of 30 or more patients in an eight-hour day. Sometimes, I’d have time to eat lunch, and sometimes not,” she recalls.

The drive to make a difference in women’s health led her to open her own practice.

“Nobody in medical school teaches you how to start your own practice,” she admits, emphasizing the challenges of navigating private practice. 

Even so, Dr. Rahman soon found that private practice allowed her to spend more time with patients and truly listen to their stories.

“I went from barely having a conversation with my patients to spending an hour to an hour and a half listening to them,” she recalls, emphasizing the value of providing care on her own terms.

Within weeks of opening her doors, she began specializing in sexual medicine and menopause, focusing on treating sexual pain and menopausal transition.

“My first few patients were Muslim women who came in with sexual pain,” she remembers. “Not long after, I had more African-American and South Asian women coming to me with concerns about menopause or their sexual health.”

Since that time, Dr. Rahman’s work has revolved around educating her patients and empowering them to advocate for themselves when it comes to their sexual well-being and/or their menopause symptoms.

To better serve her patients, she also pursued additional education, becoming a certified menopause specialist through The Menopause Society (formerly NAMS) and a certified sexual-medicine specialist through ISSWSH (International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health).

She encourages patients to be brave and shameless, advocating for their health and challenging the cultural stigmas that have long been associated with women’s health and sexual well-being.

As menopause becomes a more widely discussed topic, Dr. Rahman has noticed a shift in patient attitudes and says the increased visibility of menopause in the media has led to more informed patients seeking care. She credits influential figures like Oprah for sparking conversations that challenge the stigmas surrounding menopause.

Her hope for the future is that women, especially women of color, will not suffer in silence during their menopause transition. She believes educating the next generation and encouraging them to be open about their health can lead to a more supportive environment.

Dr. Rahman’s dedication to culturally considerate care and patient advocacy serves as an inspiration for women of color navigating the complexities of menopause.

To work with Dr. Rahman, visit her website. You can also follow her on Instagram @Gynogirl and subscribe to her podcast, “Gynogirl Presents: Sex, Drugs & Hormones,” wherever you listen to podcasts.

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