Physician Chair Highlights
Written by Alexandra (Sasha) Shumyatsky
Dr. Julia Geynisman-Tan is a fellow in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois, her medical degree at the University of Michigan, and her residency at Weill Cornell in New York City. After medical school, while researching health policy in Israel, she stumbled upon the issue of international sex trafficking when a friend asked her to help translate stories of Russian women who had been trafficked in Israel. she spent some time in Israel working with trafficking victims.
During her residency in New York, she received funding to open the Survivor Clinic- a medical home for trafficking survivors. Now, Dr. Geynisman-Tan is in Chicago for her fellowship and has been working on starting a similar clinic called the “ERASE clinic.”
Dr. Geynisman-Tan joined Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans (PATH) in the last year and has several goals she would like to accomplish through PATH. She believes that every healthcare provider should have human trafficking at the top of their differential when they see a woman in an emotional or physical crisis.
While “red flags” are critical for identifying a trafficking victim, Dr. Geynisman-Tan believes that the most reliable sign is an “inner feeling” that makes you as the care-provider feel nervous, agitated or anxious, that is likely because the patient feels those emotions. Patients who feel anxious or helpless may try to counter those emotions by acting indifferent, angry, or hostile towards the health care provider. Although our initial instinct may be to pull away from a difficult patient, Dr. Geynisman-Tan suggests that this initial instinct should be overcome and instead, this patient should be given special attention because she may be a victim of trafficking.
When Dr. Geynisman-Tan has received a referral for a survivor of sex trafficking, she tries to establish a long-term relationship by focusing on what they perceive to be their most important and immediate needs. If their healthcare needs are not gynecologic, she often refers the patient to different providers who are more equipped to help the patient but are trauma-informed and knowledgeable about trafficking. She believes it is also very helpful for the victim to hear the same message from multiple providers; it reinforces the significance and creates a circle of trust.
Dr. Geynisman-Tan also believes that our society puts more emphasis on teaching young girls about sex trafficking and not enough emphasis on leading boys and men away from glorification of female exploitation. Education of men is essential in order to diminish the amount of pimps and Johns because “there would not be a supply of trafficked women, if there was no demand.” So for medical students who are interested in becoming advocates, it can be helpful to focus on this part of trafficking that is often not fulfilled.