December 2, 2021

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell Health Needs a Gynecologist

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Editor’s note: Due to the large number of signatories on this letter it has not been edited and is instead being published in its original form. As a result, it does not conform to Sun Style.

To the editor:

We are 136 current and former Cornell students.  We include members of the Pelvic Pain Association of Cornell, Disability+, Graduate Women in Science, QGrads, Women’s Health Initiative, Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell, [email protected], Women’s Law Coalition, and the Women of Color Collective, among others.  We include students who suffer from pelvic pain and allies of people with pelvic pain.  We are writing this letter to urge Cornell to provide funding for Cornell Health to hire an MD gynecologist. Specifically, we need a gynecologist with experience diagnosing and treating chronic vulvovaginal and pelvic pain conditions such as vulvodynia, endometriosis, PCOS, and pelvic floor dysfunction. 

Cornell Health currently fails to provide adequate treatment for many Cornell students who live with pelvic pain.  Many of us have experiences of Cornell Health providers chalking our severe pain up to “stress” when it turns out to later be a serious medical issue, or misdiagnosing us in ways that have imperiled our health. In order to seek adequate care, many of us have had to wait for breaks to travel home and see a doctor. 

This is not a problem isolated to a few students. Endometriosis affects ~10% of cis women, vulvodynia affects ~16% of cis women, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects ~13% of cis women of reproductive age.  Unfortunately, people usually suffer for years before they are correctly diagnosed. For example, endometriosis takes on average over four years to be diagnosed after the onset of symptoms; for women of color it can take over eleven years.  In another study, 35% of vulvodynia patients went to over 15 medical appointments before receiving a diagnosis.  This delayed diagnosis is a result of inadequate access to medical care from well-trained providers who take pelvic pain seriously. If left untreated, people with pelvic pain are at risk for long-term health consequences, including poorer quality of life, anxiety, depression, anemia and infertility.  

Cornell needs to deal with this problem directly because the community gynecologists available in Ithaca are not specialized in pelvic pain; the majority specialize in childbirth services.  Planned Parenthood focuses on family planning and sexually transmitted infections and does not treat long-term pelvic pain.  Other providers like the OBGYN & Midwifery Associates of Ithaca frame their practices solely in terms of women’s health care, which can be a barrier to trans-inclusive health care.  Furthermore, Ithaca’s gynecologists are not easily accessible by public transit.  For example, the women’s health division of Cayuga Medical Center in Lansing is approximately 30 minutes off campus via bus. 

Cornell Health currently has zero MD gynecologists on staff, and no provider specialized to deal with chronic pelvic pain.  Although many of the nurse practitioners at Cornell Health are excellent medical practitioners, they are unable to provide the diagnosis and treatment that a gynecologist who is trained in understanding chronic vulvovaginal and pelvic pain conditions could.  In contrast to Cornell, Harvard and Yale both have multiple MD gynecologists available through their student health services. Harvard’s gynecologists even have specialized training to perform laparoscopic surgeries for patients with endometriosis. Cornell’s students should be able to receive the same effective, immediate care on our campus.

It is difficult to pursue academic studies while missing classes every time you menstruate, dreading sexual encounters in a healthy loving relationship, or throwing up regularly because your undiagnosed pain is so severe.  Well-documented absenteeism and productivity declines caused by pelvic pain and medical appointments operate as an underacknowledged factor (among others) to produce a “leaky pipeline” for women and gender minorities in academia.  This is a serious equity issue for our university! Providing a gynecologist and treatment options for pelvic pain will alleviate stress and allow students to be more present and productive in their classes at Cornell, and live healthier and happier lives. 

It is time to end the silence. We need to act. Cornell students need a gynecologist who can treat pelvic pain.  

Signed, 

Arielle Johnson, grad, Co-Founder, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Shayla Parthasarathy, ’21, Co-Founder, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Jeff Pea, grad, Member, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Christina Fogarasi, grad, Member, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Patrice Crosby, grad, Member, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Praise Makinde, ’25, Member, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Lisa D. Camp, grad, Member, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Ariana Croese, ’22, Member, Pelvic Pain Association at Cornell

Alice Wolff, grad, Founder, Disability+

Emily Donald, grad, Member, Disability+ and QGrads

Thari Zweers, grad, Member, Disability+

Ritisha Ghosh, grad, Science Communications Chair, Graduate Women in Science 

Melia Matthewz, grad, EBoard Member, Graduate Women in Science

Catherine Dadmun, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science

Adriana Hernandez, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science and QGrads

Liat Kugelmass, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science and QGrads

Roberta Nilson, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science

Emma Roszkowski, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science

Paige Jacob, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science

Megan Keller, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science

Rikki Serafina Laser, grad, Member, Graduate Women in Science; Co-Chair, MAC

Stephanie Tepper, grad, Co-President, QGrads

Taylor Pryor, grad, Board Member, QGrads; Advocacy Liaison, EGSO

Michelle Heeney, grad, Member, QGrads

Sophia Mathews, ’22, Co-President, Women’s Health Initiative 

Amanda Juan, ’22, Treasurer, Women’s Health Initiative

Lauren Gorsky, ’23, Member, Women’s Health Initiative

Samantha Heller, ’23, Co-President, Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell

Katherine Esterl, ’24, Operations Chair, Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell

Armita Jamshidi, ’25, Member, Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell

Damien Osborne, ’22, Member, Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell

Eliza Salamon, ’24, Member, Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Cornell

Carley Kukk, ’23, President, [email protected] 

Aprile Bertomo, ’22, Treasurer, [email protected]

Marina Starikovsky, ’25, Communications Director, [email protected]

Lola Berger, ’24, Drive Chair, [email protected]

Alexandra Pultorak, ’23, Marketing Chair, [email protected]

Julia Xiong, ’23, E-Board, [email protected]

Berta Faktorovich, ’25, Member, [email protected]

Julia Fritsch, ’25, Member, [email protected]

Cristina Kiefaber, ’25, Member, [email protected]

Jennifer Kim, ’25, Member, [email protected]

Zoe-Pascale Roux, law student, 1L Representative, Women’s Law Coalition

Kaitlyn Greening, law student, Member, Women’s Law Coalition

Cynthia Yang, law student, President, Women of Color Collective

Katlin Bowers, law student, Treasurer, Women of Color Collective

Clara Drimmer , ’22, President, Gender Justice Advocacy Coalition

I-An “Amy” Su, grad, Vice President, Graduate & Professional Women’s Network

Nina Ellison, ’25, Member, Undergraduate Women in Science

Emily Dautenhahn, grad, Vice President, Cornell Association for Women in Math

Aimée Eicher, ’24

Alexandra Dalferro, grad

Alexandra Lilly, ’24

Alyssa Hackley, ’24

Amy Qiao, ’25

Andreea Beldie, grad

Andres Montealegre, grad

Annie Zhao, ’25

Ariana Wanvig Dot, ’25

Ariel Estrella, grad

Asma Ansari, ’25

Autumn Rudlong, grad

Barbara Cohn, grad

Brendan Lopez, ’25

Bruno Shirley, grad

Byron Rusnak, grad

Caroline Ryan ’24

Casey Silver, AEM ’21

Catherine Kagemann, grad

Chinasa T. Okolo, grad

Claire Ravenburg, grad

Daniela Gloster, ’24

Denisse Gayosso Lucano, grad

Effat Rahman, ’24

Ekaterina Landgren, grad

Elaina Varriale, ’25

Elizabeth Si, ’24

Ellie Altman-Sagan, ’25

Farah Bakaari, grad

Frances Revel, MFA ’19

Gokul Nair, grad

Hannah Lee, ’25

Hannah Lewis, ’25

Ines Muravin, grad

Jackie Lopez, grad

Jaleigh Pier, grad

Jessica Rodriguez, grad

Jesús Martínez-Gómez, grad

Jordan Stewart, ’22

Joycelyn Vu, ’25 

Julia Kim, ’25

Kara M Fikrig, grad

Katherine Blake, grad

Katherine Holmes, grad

Kelly Hoffer, grad

Kelsey Jensen, grad

Kylie Race, ’25

Lillian Senn, grad

Maggie O’Leary, grad 

Marisa Pagan Figueroa, law student

Marissa Gee, grad

Marty Cain, grad

Marya Kim, ’25

McKenna Norton, ’25

Medha Bulumulla, ’23

Megan Barkdull, grad

Melanie Acosta, ’25

Merrick Black, law student

Nara Cowing, ’24

Natalie Hofmeister, grad

Nathan Scinto-Madonich, grad

Nathaniel Likert, grad

Noah Brady, grad

Olivia Milroy Evans, grad

Olivia Ochoa, ’24

Oona Cullen, grad

Pastor Michael-Vincent Crea, ’77

Philippa Chun, grad

Rachel Skene, law student

Regan Stephenson, grad

Rocío Corral García, grad

Sabrina Lin, ’25

Saisha Puri, ’25

Sanvi Bhardwaj, ’24

Sara Downs, grad

Sara Stamatiades, grad

Sarah R Meiners, grad

Shania Cabrera, ’24

Sharon Wang, ’23

Sonali Nicola, ’25

Sri Devarakonda, grad

Stephanie Rich, grad

Tim Luttermoser, grad

Tori Staley, law student

Ujjainee Sharma, grad

Vivianna Sanchez, grad