Mover and Shaker: Jennifer Anger, MD
She has mastered the rhythm of success. This distinguished scientist and urologist — and sometimes salsa dancer — is blazing a trail to improve women’s health. Here, she shares her thoughts on advancing robotic surgery practices, mentoring young physicians, and bridging medicine’s gender gap.
Q. What drew you to specialize in urology?
A: I always knew I wanted to go into surgery; I loved being in the operating room. The teachers I had in urology were amazing. And there was a real need for more women in the field. Even now, only 8 percent of urologists are women, while women make up about 30 percent of urologic patients. That’s a serious representation gap.
Q. In your clinical practice, what type of cases do you see most often?
A: I perform robotic surgery to repair pelvic organ prolapse — the descent of the pelvic organs, such as the bladder, through the vaginal wall. Various factors drive development of the problem, from aging and genetics to the stresses of childbirth.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in treating this issue?
A: One of the biggest hurdles I encounter is social stigma. For many women, pelvic organ prolapse is a disease of shame and silence. As we continue to raise awareness about the problem, we are able both to minimize any perceived embarrassment and reassure patients that this is something we can successfully navigate.
Q. What role does research play in advancing positive outcomes for your patients?
A: My experience with robotic surgery piqued my interest in human factors research — studying the interface between humans and systems, with the goal of maximizing safety and efficiency. My colleague Ken Catchpole is a human factors practitioner. He and I studied flow disruptions, which refer to environmental factors, equipment distractions, and communication breakdowns that can interfere with surgery. We found that, by implementing specific training techniques, we can improve safety as well as efficiency, such as turnaround time, in surgery.
Q. Is teaching part of your portfolio?
A: Yes. I came to Cedars-Sinai in 2010 to be a mentor for the new residency program in urology. In fact, we just graduated our first chief residents, and they both went on to academic fellowships in urology. Now we’re working to establish a fellowship in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at Cedars-Sinai, so we’ll be able to train urologists and gynecologists who have already completed their residency to become specialists in this field.
Q. What advice do you have for women considering a career in urology?
A: I always like to encourage women to pursue those fields where there aren’t enough of us. What I tell them is it takes a great team, particularly when it comes to balancing career and children. I have collaborative partners, amazing nurses, and wonderful front office staff as well as an encouraging husband and a mom who is incredibly helpful. With the right support in place, anything is possible.
Q. What makes Cedars-Sinai an ideal place for your work?
A: I’m a big believer in the importance of team effort, and the people here are extraordinary, from the basic scientists to the medical staff. Based on the strength of our collaborations, our team became a site for the Multidisciplinary Approach to the Study of Chronic Pelvic Pain Research Network, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health. This is an incredibly supportive environment, and that translates to real results.
Anger’s father, a retired jazz pianist, always wanted to be a doctor and was an inspiration to his daughter from a young age. Her own fascination with science and a passion for caring for people made medicine a good match.
Appearing in the Journal of Surgical Research — and supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health — Anger and Catchpole’s analysis of surgical flow disruptions identifies opportunities for improvements in robotic surgery.
Anger and her husband, Lowell, have three children whose passions range from drumming to basketball to creating anime (a style of Japanese animation).
Time spent in Spain and Colombia sparked Anger’s love of Latin dance, which she shares with others as a Zumba instructor.