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Helping mothers, helping children

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2019 - Autumn


She decided to specialize in neonatology during medical studies, but Linda Genen, MD, MPH, decided to enter medicine much earlier—as a five-year-old, watching Robert Fuller in his iconic turn as Dr. Kelly Bracket in “Emergency.” The show, which played from 1972-79 on WTNH, channel 11 at the time, inspired the young girl to become a doctor. And she did.

“I remember, he was the one the paramedics called into; he was stern and knowledgeable, and he fixed peoples’ problems. That’s what I wanted to do,” says Genen.

Now Chief Medical Officer for Women’s Health with Optum, a health services company, Genen is the calm, authoritative doctor providing answers to people who have questions about their health challenges. It was a long road, but throughout her scientific and medical education, Genen’s commitment to becoming a physician never wavered.

One event in her adolescence may have cemented health care as a future career, and made medicine more tangible to the future doctor. “At the age of 16, I developed a small benign tumor in my breast,” says Genen. “That’s what got me interested in surgery, initially—I wanted to be the next Dr. Susan Love, researching cures for breast cancer.”

Spurred by the successful treatment she received, Genen attended and graduated from Wellesley college while focusing on excelling in her medical prerequisites, then attended SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, where she earned an MD. During her surgical rotation, her plans hit a snag: “it was a hard rotation,” Genen says, “there was a ton of sexual harassment. This prompted me to reevaluate my options.”

Good fortune intervened, as is sometimes the case, clarifying her path and giving Genen a positive option during her second year of medical school. A supportive mentor offered her $2,000 for a summertime research position in neonatology at Winthrop University Hospital. Genen loved every minute of it, entered the field, and her benefactor became a lifelong ally.

She pursued her residency at Columbia, and then came to Yale for a fellowship in neonatology with the Department of Pediatrics. She acquired her Master of Public Health at Yale as well, spending four years in New Haven (1998-2001). “The head of my department helped fund my MPH with a grant, and that’s what opened up a new perspective on clinical outcomes,” says Genen. “Having a broader view of health has changed and improved how I approach individual patients. An MPH is worthwhile for anyone who has the time and resources.”

Now, she’s passionate about using technology to help women; especially when it comes to fertility, and successful pregnancy. Genen herself benefitted from fertility treatments, which led to two sons, one in 2001, and another in 2005; she describes the process as “an emotional roller coaster,” and sees her mission as easing a saga that she knows from experience to be very demanding.

“When I was trying to get pregnant from 1998-2001, the fertility space was different. Doctors and insurance companies had prospective mothers go through a lot before finally escalating to in vitro fertilization (IVF). And when they did prescribe a course of IVF, they’d implant three or four viable embryos at once. We didn’t know as much, then, clearly,” says Genen. Having worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and seen her fair share of twins and triplets there in the 1990s, Genen didn’t want that for her own children, and has been happy to see the field evolve. Now, she said, IVF treatment tends to focus on a single viable fetus, monitored carefully and carried to term successfully.

Another development in the field of fertility (which impacts neonatology) is fallout from the broader society-wide revolution in data collection and analysis. Even as medical technology is allowing greater certainty with various forms of fertility treatment, information about who benefits from which procedures, as well as general information about public groups, changes how individuals approach their courses. Genen feels that her MPH at Yale helps her see better understand the type of analysis being done now.

Still, clinical practice remains important to Genen, and she spends one day each month at Northwell Cohen Childrens’ Hospital on Long Island taking care of babies. The rest of her time is dedicated to her responsibilities as CMO, focused on case management, and using big sets of data to improve the experience of hopeful future mothers.

“I’ve been very lucky in my life and in my education,” says Genen, “Yale had a lot to do with that.”