The May 2017 issue of Philadelphia magazine features its annual list of Top Docs™, and 49 Drexel University College of Medicine physicians have been named among the region’s best. Here is the complete list of Drexel doctors who received the recognition.
The magazine also features Asyia Ahmad, MD, an associate professor in the College of Medicine, on its cover. We caught up with the gastroenterologist to find out more about how she and her medical team are changing patients’ attitudes about their guts.
What can people eat more of to improve their digestion?
I think a lot of people know what they can add to their diets — mainly foods with lots of fiber. But what people may not know, is the different foods that their guts may be sensitive to. Lactose, for instance, is not just in milk and cheese, but it’s also found in a lot of processed foods. Artificial sweeteners, like the kind found in sugar-free chewing gum, can also cause a lot of people stomach pain and digestion issues, since sugar alcohols are not very well digested. So it’s really important to be in tune with what you’re consuming to figure out what may be causing you problems.
What does a gastroenterologist do?
We treat so many different symptoms and organs — not only the colon. There’s acid reflux, which could present with laryngitis, chronic cough or heartburn. Patients come in with abdominal discomfort — maybe they have stomach ulcers or irritable bowel syndrome. We also treat the pancreas and the gallbladder. We see patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, but also with liver disorders such as Hepatitis C. It is a really diverse field, and each gastroenterologist at Drexel has his or her own subspecialty.
You serve as the course director for the annual National Forum on Women’s Issues in Gastroenterology and Hepatology. What are some of the unique issues that women with gastrointestinal issues face?
Barbara Frank, a former professor of medicine at Drexel, started the forum in 2002. Before then, there had not been any national gender-based conference about GI disorders. Women often suffer from more lower GI-tract motility issues, which is much of what my clinical and research interests focus on. Issues like pelvic floor problems, incontinence, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome tend to be more common in women, due to hormones, menopause and pregnancy, among other reasons. We also discuss how some of these issues may affect a woman’s sexuality and lifestyle, and how doctors may need to approach their disorders differently, depending on the gender of their patient.
Are there many female gastroenterologists?
Gastroenterology started out as a very male-dominated field, and still today not more than a third are women. This does present a problem, because studies have demonstrated that many female patients are less comfortable discussing GI issues with a male doctor, and would prefer that a female doctor perform their colonoscopies.
Drexel Medicine serves a diverse population of patients from many different backgrounds, races and socioeconomic statuses. What are some of the challenges that come with diversity and how is Drexel Gastroenterology addressing them?
In our division we have conducted a number of research studies surrounding how gender and culture affect things like obesity and attitudes toward medical care. For instance, in 2009, we sought to identify whether gender preference for an endoscopist was a barrier to complete a recommended endoscopic procedure. The study, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, found that 33 percent of 500 patients expressed preference for the gender of their doctor performing a colonoscopy. 88 patients, or 18 percent, reported a history of abuse, and women in that population were more likely to prefer a woman endoscopist. This showed that doctors need to be aware of patients’ history and preferences, in order to serve patients the best they can.
What would you say to men or women who nervous about seeing a gastroenterologist or having a colonoscopy?
For colonoscopy, there are such a variety of anxieties and barriers. Some people may be scared about losing control while they are under sedation. For others, there are cultural or language barriers. Some patients are embarrassed, or others have gender preferences. Colonoscopy is actually a very easy procedure, and I think the physician can alleviate concerns and clarify misconceptions. Just like our studies show, the most important thing is to figure out what a patient’s barrier actually is and then find a way to address it and to make a patient feel comfortable.
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