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Compassion is a requirement for every medical specialty, but some specialties require doctors to have an exceptional ability to listen to patients’ most hard-to-talk-about problems. Candid conversations about issues surrounding urination and sexual matters can be difficult for many patients.
These sensitive, highly personal conversations are what led Rachael Sussman, MD, to choose urology for her medical specialty. She is the first female urologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center Urology, and one of only 10 percent nationwide.
For men and women, urology deals with diseases of the urinary tract, from the kidneys that clean the blood and extract the urine, to ureters that carry urine to the bladder for storage, and on to the urethra that carries urine out of the body. For men, urology also deals with the male reproductive organs, including the penis, testicles and prostate gland.
Problems with urination and leakage of urine are common and can greatly impact a person’s quality of life. Honest, open conversations can lead to solutions that dramatically improve a person’s life. “Urology gives me a good opportunity to make people happy,” Dr. Sussman explains. “I like to focus on these quality-of-life issues where I can help people.”
Some of the more common conditions she treats are urinary leakage, frequent urination or an urgent need to urinate—changes that many men and women experience as they get older. For women, these conditions can be a result of childbearing. For men, these conditions can result from an enlarged prostate, which also may be due to aging.
After training as a urologist, Dr. Sussman completed a fellowship in female pelvic medicine, also called urogynecology, a specialty that treats women with urinary problems that result from uterine prolapse and other conditions associated with aging and childbearing. Highly specialized surgeries can offer relief by lifting sagging structures and restoring vaginal anatomy.
Whatever the cause, Dr. Sussman uses a step-by-step approach to identify the best treatment. “I use the least invasive treatment methods first,” Dr. Sussman explains. This can include exercises to strengthen the muscles that control urination plus other behavioral approaches. Medications can also be used to relax the bladder or improve the flow of urine.
“We tailor our treatments to each patient’s goals and desires,” she says. That’s where her sensitivity and compassion come into play. When it comes to the treatment of pelvic organ prolapse in women, she is an expert in vaginal surgery, which allows her to treat problems without any visible incision. She also offers robotic surgery that can be performed through tiny incisions, which reduce pain and speed recovery. Men with enlarged prostates also benefit from new treatments. For example, a laser treatment can help reduce the size of the prostate to ease urination with a lower risk of bleeding than traditional surgery.
Dr. Sussman is part of a urology practice at MedStar Washington Hospital Center that includes seven urologists. “The value of a large urology practice is that each of us can be really specialized in what we do and stay up to date on the newest findings in the practice of urology. Patients can be sure that they have access to the best specialist for their particular condition.”
It’s never too early to seek treatment, Dr. Sussman concludes. “Things change as we age,” she says. “Early intervention can help problems from becoming worse over time. There are a lot of new treatments that are very effective.”