17:00 PM

Women’s Health Physician Returns to Northwestern Medicine After Three Years in China

Alexander Lin, MD, OB/GYN, took his passion for women’s health care around the world and back again. After 20 years at Northwestern Medicine, he headed to Shanghai, China, to build a Women’s Health Program that previously did not exist.

Now serving as the medical director for women’s health at Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital, Dr. Lin plans to use his overseas experience to improve screening tools for at-risk patients here. In turn, he applied many of his learnings from Northwestern Medicine to helping doctors in Shanghai develop better relationships with their patients.

In 2018, Dr. Lin signed a three-year contract with Jiahui Health to be the Chair and Executive Director of their Women’s Health Program. The role required him to build and develop a team of doctors, nurses and other staff members.

“The heart of any women’s health program is obstetrics, so I first focused on that area,” he said. “The physical building was there, but there were no doctors, no set protocols, nothing. It took me about six months to build a team and pass all governmental inspections.”

When interviewing doctors for the practice, Dr. Lin found most had a lot of pride in being able to see a patient in three minutes and meet with 80 to 100 patients per day. While efficient, meeting with that many patients doesn’t allow doctors to gain a full understanding of their patients’ health and wellbeing.

“99% of healthcare in Shanghai is through their public health system and it’s overcrowded,” Dr. Lin said. “Relationship care doesn’t exist; if you have a problem, you go to the hospital and see whatever doctor is available.”

Once the doctors joined his staff, Dr. Lin coached them to spend more time getting to know their patients to better focus on preventive care. By the end of his tenure, the program grew to 18 doctors providing OB/GYN services with an obstetric volume of about 100 deliveries a month.

“There is now a group of physicians there who bought into being a partner for life with patients,” Dr. Lin said. “It’s really fulfilling to say there’s now a whole population of women in Shanghai who have access to the care they deserve.”

After three years in China, Dr. Lin returned to the Chicagoland area to be close to his family again. When he came across the medial director opportunity at Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital, he saw some similarities with his work at Jiahui.

“Northwestern Medicine was looking for someone to grow the women’s health program at Palos Hospital, and I thought that was exciting, because it was similar to what I just did in Shanghai but in a more mature situation,” Dr. Lin said. “I’m looking forward to expanding the program here and seeking opportunities to become even better.”

Dr. Lin observed one upside to the high number of patient appointments he first encountered in Shanghai: better screening tools for women who are pregnant.

“They have a more robust screening system in China, because if you’re seeing 80 to 100 patients a day, you need to have good screening tools,” he said. “You may come back to the hospital for care and see a different doctor than before, so more comprehensive screening tools track patients who are at greater risk.”

There’s a contrast between the health risks for American women and the risks Dr. Lin observed with women in China. For example, in China, the average Body Mass Index (BMI) was around 20-21. In the United States, the average BMI and total weight gain during pregnancy are much higher.

“It’s rare that we talk about a patient’s BMI being too low and a risk factor for pregnancy in the U.S., especially our population here in Chicago,” he said. “With higher rates of obesity here, there are greater risks for hypertension, gestational diabetes, deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolisms.”

On the other hand, American patients generally fare better with preventive screenings for breast cancer or cervical cancer.

“China leads the developed world in rates of breast cancer and cervical cancer,” he said. “There isn’t a prevention type of mentality and they’re just now starting to catch up in terms of things like mammography screening and HPV vaccination.”

Although the patient needs are different, Dr. Lin’s desire to provide comprehensive, empathetic care remains the same.

“I encouraged my staff in Shanghai to get to know their patients, develop relationships, and ask questions,” he said. “That’s the way to become the doctor you want to be.”

For more information about women’s health at Northwestern Medicine, visit https://www.nm.org/conditions-and-care-areas/womens-health.