By Carlton Davis
Mary Margaret Rantz is a 50-year old gynecologist. She lives in Northern Virginia and is a dedicated wife and mother of three. In her free time she enjoys running (she just ran the Boston Marathon) and spending time with her children. She grew up in a military household; her father was a colonel in the Army and her mother stayed at home to raise four daughters. In high school she graduated first in her class and finished summa cum laude at Bryn Mawr College. She went to UVA Medical School before moving back to Northern Virginia where she spent several years as a resident at George Washington University. In 1985 she dropped the obstetrics portion of her career to focus solely on the gynecological aspect. She and a partner created their own practice, and currently the practice has three partners.
Mary's first remembrance of really being awed by science was in 11th grade chemistry. She created and broke down substances and explained reactions in a really concise, mathematical way. It all fit together so well for her, and she started to get the idea that everything in the world could be explained in a neat package. The same was the case with 12th grade physics, where she could explain in real terms every day events she witnessed.
This sudden love for the sciences really spurred her interest in studying these same physical sciences in college. She majored in chemistry, and she decided for sure her junior year in college that she was going to Medical School, in part because that was what many of the science majors were doing, but also because she enjoyed what she was studying. She had volunteered for four years before college in the hospital and knew that she enjoyed the environment and felt comfortable around patients. Nobody specific talked to her or influenced her; no one in her family was ever in medicine. She just enjoyed the neatness of science, how it made everything fit together and explainable, and she thought how the body worked was incredibly fascinating. She didn't want to do just research because she decided she wanted to definitely be around people, that that would be more interesting than lab work.
She went to Med. School at UVA and in her graduating class there were only six women out of a class of 105. Nevertheless, Mary graduated and moved into the field of OB/GYN, a predominantly male field. Though she has adapted to this well and does not feel overwhelmed at all right now, when she first started off she recalls being a bit nervous. She felt like she had to be a little better than the males and a bit more careful about not making mistakes. There was also a very prevalent feeling that she and her other female coworkers would not be spending full time on a medical career, and that their spots could be better used by men who would work more. As time has shown, however, Mary's place in her profession was never in doubt as she has been working in the same male-dominated field for over twenty years.
Professionally, the impact of technology on Mary's life has been rather large. Perhaps the most important change technology has brought about for her has been the computer. She doesn't necessarily use a computer, but her staff and assistants use them daily for patient registration, filing, billing, etc. Needless to say the computer greatly facilitates the operation of her practice as a business, as it saves both large amounts of time and money. The same could be said of the fax machine. Aside from running the practice as a business, the computer also has some other uses. Patients, she says, often use the internet to gather tons of medical information. They have access to much information on every subject, much of it good, but lots of it bad ("maybe anecdotal to a specific individual writing, but not applicable to the patient sitting in front of you. This leads to a lot of explaining about why what she's reading may not apply to her").
In a more technical regard, in obstetrics the ultrasound has made everything easier, with far more problems being diagnosed before birth than ever before. Also, with electronic transmission of fetal heartbeat tracings, etc., one can monitor a patient in labor without even being in the room. All of the new imaging machines are revolutionizing medicine, mostly for the good, she says. Ultrasound and CAT scans and the newer, more sophisticated scans are all allowing us to see things that are undetectable on a physical exam. Mary thinks that hopefully this will result in detecting things earlier for higher cure rates. But there is a learning curve, because many things that are seen with these sensitive scans may be "variants of normal", and until people are clear on that, patient anxiety and some unnecessary follow-up testing will ensue. As mentioned earlier, the ultrasound has been incredible. Fetal imaging has resulted in some amazing pre-natal fetal intervention, both surgical and medical, that has corrected disorders previously fatal or uncorrectable until after birth, which was sometimes too late. Other technological advances in the field of immunology and microbiology have, too, been just as incredible for genetic manipulations and treatment of previously uncorrectable infertility problems. The potentials in this field are mind-boggling in terms of laboratory advancements.
Mary also shared some views on reproductive technologies. Reproductive technologies are now more than ever becoming an integral part of gynecology and patient/doctor consults. Most of these reproductive technologies, she believes, are geared towards women for two reasons. One, because women bear the children and they have more inclination and more invested in actually using the technology, as opposed to males. Two, there are more ways to manipulate reproduction in the female because the process has more steps and is more complicated than the male- instead of just sperm production and expulsion, she can work with ovulation function, tubal function, uterine factors, etc. in the female. Women are usually more willing to submit to reproductive technologies because they already handle the pregnancies and deliveries. Mary, however, believes ("Unfortunately," in her words) that this does perpetuate the common male propensity to feel that they are not as responsible for the potential outcomes of sex in terms of pregnancy, STDs, etc., and the feeling that the contraceptive responsibility is largely that of the woman. She doesn't see this changing a lot in the future, although with the prevalence of STDs in both sexes, sees more condom use than previously.
Mary does not think that alienation among women, due to the fact that reproductive technologies are geared towards them, is a problem. In many cases, some measures of freedom have resulted, both in terms of later child-bearing (not the intention from the medical perspective), and in terms of achieving pregnancy in women with certain problems that would have left them childless 50 years ago. As for other medical advancements such as stem cell research and in vitro fertilization, she believes it has to go on and that there is really no stopping it. Science will move forward with the tools that become available. Doctors, scientists, and people in general will have to decide how to best regulate, just as we have with cars, etc., and everything else. She thinks that pretty soon there will be some choice in reproduction with sex selection and gene therapy in cases where there are absolute medical indications, and she thinks this is for the better. As with everything else, they will have to decide where to draw the line.
The use of midwifery, Mary feels, still has its uses in today's society. She feels that it is generally good, and in many areas of the country, absolutely the only answer. State laws governing the midwifery practice vary, because the needs of the states vary. As with any kind of practitioner, a good one is great and a bad one can be a disaster. The main thing that is needed is to have appropriate backup, both physician and hospital, and for that backup to be called for as soon as there is an indication. That's where the quality of the midwife comes in. There probably should be more uniform regulations for the credentialing of midwives applicable to all states, but there are not.
Around the house, Mary does not use technology as frequently as other mothers or women her age probably do. The technologies that have had the largest impact on her life, she says, have been the computer and the television. Interestingly enough, however, is the fact that these technologies have affected her because of the way they are used by those around her, not necessarily her use. For example, family planning often revolves around the television, and the use of the home computer has caught the interest of her children so that she has more free time. On an everyday basis she uses things more like the microwave, dishwasher, and the gas stove, which was just upgraded from an electric one.
Mary is often told by her mother how much easier her life is because of new household technologies that have been created over the past 30 years. Technologies such as the vacuum, dishwasher, microwave, disposable diapers, packaged and pre-prepared products of all kinds are just examples of these technologies. Though these all save her some time, Mary claims she could manage without them.
On the advancement of technology in general, Mary believes that this is a positive event, because we would never move forward without them. The problem, she notices, is that a few people achieving major advancements then let those accomplishments out on the world with all the other people who may not handle them responsibly. But we still have to keep moving, she says, and handle the problems that arise through political and ethical channels. If we do not keep moving forward technologically, then she is afraid that we are not going to survive as this planet becomes more crowded and depleted.
Send message to Swarthmore College Women's Studies
last updated 5/17/02webmaster