Dr. Saralyn Mark of iGIANT: Why Life’s Pleasures Are Good For Us
…everyday, even in the midst of chaos, find one thing that brings you joy. Look at flowers-better yet try to smell the flowers next time you’re near them. Have a conversation with a friend. Try to think outside of yourself to make someone else’s life be better.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Saralyn Mark, MD, an endocrinologist, geriatrician and women’s health specialist the founder, president and CEO of SolaMed Solutions, LLC, a boutique consulting firm. In this capacity, she has served as a medical and scientific policy advisor providing scientific and strategic direction for organizations and agencies including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Strategic Investment Fund, academia, industry, and non-governmental and professional society organizations. She is also the founder and president of the iGIANT®, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the translation of research into gender/sex-specific design elements across all sectors.
Dr. Mark was the first Senior Medical Advisor to the Office on Women’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services for 11 years and to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for 18 years. As Senior Medical Advisor, Dr. Mark was responsible for the development and analysis of initiatives and programs on emerging technologies, public health preparedness, physician workforce issues, sex and gender-based medicine and women’s health on Earth and in space.
As a pioneer in women’s health, she designed the first women’s health fellowship in the United States, helped create the National Centers of Leadership in Academic Medicine, the National Centers of Excellence in Women’s Health in academic and community health centers across the country and landmark educational campaigns on critical health issues.
Dr. Mark is a Diplomate of the National Board of Medical Examiners and had been the civilian representative to the Surgeon General Physician Advisory Committee. She has chaired or served on over 60 national and international editorial and advisory boards, commissions and task forces including the President’s Interagency Council on Women, the National Institutes of Health Federal Work Group on Bone Diseases, the NASA Medical Policy Board, NCQA HEDIS Measurement Advisory Panel, the United Nations (UN) Global Commission on Women’s Health, the UN Council on Gender Health, APCO Worldwide International and Healthcare Advisory Councils, the Society for Women’s Health Research Board, and the Dean’s Scientific Advisory Board for George Mason University.
Dr. Mark is an Associate Professor adjunct at the Yale University School of Medicine in the Departments of Medicine, and Obstetrics and Gynecology as well as at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. Dr. Mark is also an Affiliate Professor and Distinguished Senior Fellow in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University and a visiting Senior Lecturer at Kings College — London. She is an alumna of the New York University School of Medicine and Barnard College of Columbia University and completed her residency, fellowships and first academic appointment at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine (UCSF). In 2014, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine following her commencement address.
Dr. Mark has published and delivered over 700 lectures in the United States and abroad. She is the author of Stellar Medicine: A Journey Through the Universe of Women’s Health (Brick Tower Press). She has made over 300 television, radio, on-line and print appearances including CNN, NBC, ABC News and The Washington Post. Dr. Mark has received many accolades and awards from the federal government and prominent medical organizations such as the Secretary of Health Award for Distinguished Public Service, the Assistant Secretary of Health Award for Outstanding Team Performance and the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation’s Public Service Award. She is the recipient of the 2011 American Medical Women’s Association Lila A. Wallis Award for Lifetime Achievement in Women’s Health and the 2017 NYU School of Medicine Alumni Leadership Award. Dr. Mark continues to foster the development of innovative programs and policies that affect the lives of people around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My book, Stellar Medicine: A Journey Through the Universe of Women’s Health, isa part memoir / part guidebook that tells the journey I’ve taken to where I am now from when I was a little girl. It’s important to share stories since that is how we all learn. Since I was little girl, I’ve always wanted to be a doctor and an astronaut and practice on the moon. This dream led me to become a Senior Medical Advisor at NASA for 2 decades and work in the space program. Someday through the democratization of space exploration, I believe that we will all be able to enjoy space travel and even live on the moon.
During my medical training, I developed a women’s health fellowship which was multidisciplinary at UCSF. I then had an opportunity to become the Senior Medical Advisor to a new Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, where I helped develop programs and policies on a national and international level. I also became an astronaut finalist and eventually began working with NASA. In 2014, I worked at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as a Senior Policy Advisor and during that time we were facing an Ebola epidemic. I’ve worked on all of the public health outbreaks since 1995. In 2006, I decided to leave my federal position to create a boutique consulting firm, Solaced Solutions, LLC so that I could work more closely with the private sector; and in, 2017, I formed the nonprofit, iGIANT® (impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies) to focus on gendered innovation across all sectors in all environments.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Having dinner with Senator John Glenn, meeting the First Lady of Ghana and the Princess of Jordan. Of course, to work in the White House was an extraordinary gift. Again, everyone has a story. I was most impressed by Senator Glenn when he said that it was a gift to have the public constantly come up to him during our dinner since he felt that the public paid for his career.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was a fellow in Endocrinology, I had a busy clinic. One day, I had a teenage patient come in with his father. He had a disease — congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) that causes changes in one’s external features, reproductive and endocrine system. This patient was raised as a male but internally had female gonads. He started bleeding while he was going through puberty. I was very busy in my clinic and didn’t have equipment for a pelvic exam, so I sent him to OB/Gyn department for an exam. I should have brought someone down from clinic rather than have him go to an OB/Gyn clinic. At the time, no one trained me to be attuned to issues around gender, and my major focus was to make sure he was healthy. I didn’t think of whether and boy and his father would be uncomfortable going to the OB/Gyn clinic. I learned from that mistake and it has played a role in developing iGIANT to ensure equity for all and to take a non-binary approach.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I stand on the shoulders of many giants. For me, it’s my parents. My parents did not have the opportunity to go to college. My dad was a Holocaust survivor; my mother, a daughter of a traditional family where only boys were educated. But they made sure their children were educated and supported the decisions we made. They had confidence that we were going to do the right thing for ourselves and our community. They were my role models.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I’m trying to help the world see through a sex/gender lens in every aspect of our lives. My nonprofit, iGIANT, accelerates the translation of research into gender/sex-specific design elements across the health, IT, transportation and retail sectors and and with all stakeholders. We need to take a gendered-inclusive approach in design and innovation. Everyone benefits-we can improve the safety and quality of life, including work performance, for everyone and in every environment.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
In my book, Stellar Medicine, I have a chapter entitled, “Sex, Chocolate, Wine & Shopping”. This chapter outlines simple steps to achieve balance in a life of stress such as what we’re going through with COVID-19.
Life’s pleasures are good for us. Sex which includes, intimacy as well as truly communicating with people you care about, is important.
Reaching out and talking, helping another individual is valuable. I truly hope we can give hugs sometime soon.
Chocolate has important antioxidant properties but don’t overdo it. I recommend 1 piece per night.
A glass of wine is also healthy because of flavonoids and reservatrol and other antioxidants that help prevent free radicals from damaging cells.
Shopping is an analogy for physical activity. Now more people are shopping online. Prior to COVID-19, shopping in stores would provide exercise and can carry bags which provide aerobic conditioning and resistance exercise to protect bones and muscles. We often shop with friends and family and group activities increase our endorphins and decrease our stress hormones.
The premise is that everyday, even in the midst of chaos, find one thing that brings you joy. Look at flowers-better yet try to smell the flowers next time you’re near them. Have a conversation with a friend. Try to think outside of yourself to make someone else’s life be better.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
What I’m doing right now with iGIANT which is the the only nonprofit accelerator in the world for gendered innovation in the world. Through iGIANT, I’m bringing ambassadors around the world together to improve our quality and safety of life on Earth and in space, including designing and manufacturing PPE that fits the female workforce.
The other initiative I am focusing on is to communicate and educate the public during the time of COVID-19 by writing and speaking to the media which the American Medical Women’s Association has helped to provide this platform. I want our messages to be cogent, medically and scientifically correct and coordinated across all messengers. We have a responsibility to communicate in a way the public can understand.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I think they’re all related to each other. The key to all of it is mental health. You cannot dissect the body from the mind. Veganism and awareness of diet and nutrition is important. Nothing would be possible without sustainability and a healthy environment on Earth. They’re all hand in glove. Everything is interconnected.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I’m on Twitter @StellarMedicine and I have a blog on the iGIANT website; and a profile on LinkedIn focusing on public health issues.