Casey Templeton photo
Dr. Wendy S. Klein officially retired from the VCU Medical Center last fall, but you wouldn't know it from her schedule. "Retirement is a sham," says the 61-year-old internist. "I'm not sitting around eating bonbons."
Her list of professional accomplishments includes roles (often as founder) of nearly every committee, institution or conference in Virginia with a women's-health connection. Klein continues to serve as program chair for a regional women's medical conference, and deputy editor of the national Journal of Women's Health.
She also is a wife and mother; â€¨her husband, Dr. Andrew Klein, is a â€¨retired ear, nose and throat surgeon, â€¨and they have a daughter and son in their early 20s.
"When I was little," Klein recalls, "there was no such thing as a woman doctor. I used to pretend I was Clara Barton or Florence Nightingale." In high school, Klein announced she wanted to be a doctor, a plan that met with quizzical looks from family and friends.
Like many women of her generation, Klein instead entered teaching. That led to an administrative job in the New York City ghettos, overseeing job-training programs for adults in the 1970s. The work was rewarding, but medical school beckoned. Klein entered Columbia University's pre-med program and graduated in 1984 from the medical school at Case Western University.
Throughout her training, Klein was drawn to women's-health issues, although the field was hampered by old-fashioned medical norms.
"Women are not small men," Klein notes. Bone, breast, mental and cardiovascular health play just as great a role as reproductive medicine in treating women, she adds, but when she entered medicine, such care was fragmented. Despite having completed training as an internist, she felt under-trained in bone and breast care.
To improve the situation for future doctors and patients, Klein started founding programs and institutions, beginning in 1992 with the Women's Health Center in Stony Point, an offshoot of what was then known as the Medical College of Virginia. There, female patients can see doctors for a variety of medical issues, and the clinic has been named a National Center of Excellence in Women's Health.
In 1997, Klein started a residency program for internists, training them in skills needed at women's clinics, from Pap smears to bone-density care. "It was a wonderful breeding ground for clinic skills," she notes. Finding money for such programs was difficult, but VCU has been supportive of Klein's multidisciplinary approach — naming her 1996's VCU Woman of the Year.
The landscape of women's medicine has changed for the better since Klein became a doctor 25 years ago. Women are smarter about their health — especially with recent informational campaigns on breast cancer and heart disease, which have led to earlier screening and changes in lifestyle.
Klein hopes a similar shift will occur in the obesity epidemic; she says much responsibility lies on the shoulders of moms and wives, who are the primary PTA members and grocery shoppers in many households. She also hopes for improved access to health care, something all other Western countries have, she says. Bottom line: Wendy Klein won't be lying in a hammock anytime soon.