At Joylux, we’re inspired by women who speak up intelligently and compassionately about intimate health and wellbeing. There is no better example than Dr. Angelish Kumar, a groundbreaking doctor and trusted leader in urologic health. Dr. Kumar is a board-certified urologist in New York City. After graduating from the Tufts University School of Medicine with honors, she completed her residency in urology at New York University Langone Medical Center. She founded Women’s Urology New York with the goal of redesigning the urology experience for women.
We interviewed Dr. Kumar to find out about her background, what inspires her, and how we as women can prioritize our genitourinary health.
What led you to specialize in urology?
I have to say I get asked this all the time, especially by elderly women. They say, “How did a nice girl like you end up doing this for a living?!” Urology is actually an amazing and very broad field. You can focus on major cancer surgery, reconstruction of the urinary tract, kidney stones, various kinds of bladder and urinary problems, prostate issues in men, prolapse of the pelvic organs, infertility, or pediatric urology. You can focus on doing small surgeries or major operations, and you get to do a lot of minimally invasive procedures using small instruments and a camera. And now there are some urologists who are leaders in doing gender reassignment surgery.
Urology is a surgical subspecialty, and when I was a medical student at Tufts, I did my surgery rotation at the Lahey Clinic, where there are world class surgeons. I loved being in the operating room, where I spent the day observing and even participating in cases. There was this intense level of focus, balanced by colorful personalities and a great sense of teamwork. I loved feeling so engaged in something. At that point I wasn’t exposed to a lot of female urology, but when I became a resident at NYU, I started seeing the unique types of problems women face with urinary tract infections, pelvic floor weakness and incontinence.
Urology is still a field associated with male health, where female doctors are often in the minority. What unique abilities and insights do you think you bring as a woman in urologic surgery?
Urology has been a traditionally male field, and now in residency programs, it is about 30% female. I think that as a woman, I can really empathize with how women’s genitourinary issues are distressing, and how motivated women are to find solutions with the least potential side effects. When women tell me how they leak when running to catch the train to work in the morning, or dancing at their best friend’s wedding, or how their vacation was ruined by a urinary tract infection, I understand that there is a lot of worry and anxiety, as well as embarrassment around these issues. I can easily understand when you are working so hard to juggle your job, your family, and your own self-care, that leaking urine on yourself, or running out of a meeting to urinate every 10 minutes is absolutely the last thing you need.
I also understand the reluctance around having surgery or taking medication. I cringe when I get my flu shot! So, I really try to work with women to give them options they are comfortable with and that they feel are practical. If I do recommend a surgical procedure or using medication, I like to have a good discussion about the potential benefits and risks, and to make sure my patients understand what they are having done and why. I think women like to be well informed when they see a doctor and feel that they had the opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns and I would feel the same way.
Why are trusting doctor-patient relationships so vital to improving patients’ sexual and urologic health?
Genitourinary issues tend to be very sensitive topics. If your patient doesn’t trust you, you may be missing important information, and this can limit your ability to help them. So, it’s very important to establish that trust. I believe that patients know when you’re asking the right questions, and they know if you are listening to them. If they begin to develop the confidence that you are someone who can help them, they open up about what is going on.
What should more women know about their urologic health?
Vaginal and urinary problems are legitimate medical issues and there are doctors such as urologists and urogynecologists who focus on these types of problems, so I really want to encourage women to come see us. It is very important for women to recognize that their urologic health is related to changes in the pelvic floor and vaginal tissue from childbirth, as well as the hormonal changes that occur with aging.
For example, at menopause, women may notice some vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, increased tendency to get urinary tract infections, or new onset stress incontinence or overactive bladder. The lower urinary tract and pelvic floor are estrogen sensitive, and we refer to these symptoms as the “genitourinary syndrome of menopause”.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that we have about menopause?
I think the biggest misconception is that we should stop trying to look and feel great as we age. We have to be proactive about treating menopausal symptoms like men expect to be treated for low testosterone as they get older. If you are experiencing things like lack of sleep, hot flashes, or loss of intimacy because of painful intercourse, it warrants a discussion with a doctor who you trust. If menopause health is not within the scope of that doctor’s expertise, ask him or her to recommend someone, or do the research on your own. There are some good non-hormonal options that help with individual symptoms, and there is a strong role for hormone replacement therapy in appropriately selected women.
How has vFit PLUS helped your patients?
vFit is such a nice option for women who want to improve their intimate wellness and sexual function from the comfort of home. It’s great for postpartum or menopausal women who are going through changes to their bodies and want to increase confidence, sensation, and promote natural hydration.
What do you like to do for fun?
I can’t believe I’m about to say it, but right now the most fun I have is with my mom! She is so cool, so smart and she recently taught me how to make some of my favorite Indian foods like aloo gobi and yellow dal. She also teaches me amazing things, like a Hindi expression which means, “broken, but it still works”. I love that!