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Female doctors buck trend in cardiology

POSTED: July 30, 2010 10:09 p.m.
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Heather Westmoreland

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Although male cardiologists outnumber their female counterparts 9 to 1, the Northeast Georgia Heart Center in Gainesville has gained two new female cardiologists.

Dr. Heather Bagwell-Westmoreland joined the practice July 26 and Dr. Allison Dupont will be joining the team Monday.

According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, only about 10 percent of cardiology trainees are women. And when it comes to Dupont’s specialty — interventional cardiology — the number of female practitioners is only about 10 percent of the already limited female pool. Despite being a new kid on the block, Bagwell-Westmoreland said joining the heart center’s staff feels more like a homecoming.

“I’m originally from Oakwood and I was born at Northeast Georgia Medical Center,” she said. “My husband and I have moved around so much. Each time it’s a new city and unfamiliar surroundings, so it’s a relief to return here. It’s nice to settle down some place familiar.”

As an undergraduate student, Bagwell-Westmoreland worked in the medical center’s critical care unit, which helped her ultimately choose her specialty field.

“When I was 9 years old, my grandfather died suddenly from (a cardiac complication), I knew then and there that I wanted to have a career where I could prevent that sort of thing,” she said. “Working in the (critical care unit) in college exposed me to cardiology — I was a critical care tech and I loved it. In medical school, I did my cardiology rotation last because I knew that’s the one I really wanted.”

Just as women are under-represented in the field of cardiology, so are cases of heart disease in women — a fact that Dupont hopes to change.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States of men and women. A lot of people think it’s breast cancer in women, but that’s not the case,” Dupont said. “Early stages of heart disease are often missed because it’s just not thought of as a disease for women.

“I see a lot of women who didn’t receive adequate treatment in the past. They come to me after the problem has progressed to the point of needing invasive treatment. I’d like to see that turn around.”

Although patients can be referred to Dupont by their primary physician, patients also can call the office directly to make an appointment if they notice “suspicious symptoms,” she said.

Bagwell-Westmoreland echoed Dupont’s sentiments.

“A lot of women think they don’t need a cardiologist if they haven’t had a heart attack or something, but they’re wrong — everyone needs a cardiologist,” Bagwell-Westmoreland said.

“It’s better to see us early and discuss how to prevent having cardiac problems and how to minimize risks you may have, than to meet us in the (critical care unit).”



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