ORIGINAL ARTICLE: https://thewholeu.uw.edu/2020/02/27/ff-genevieve-neal-perry/
Faculty Friday: Genevieve Neal-Perry
This spring, Dr. Genevieve Neal-Perry will move across the country to begin a new chapter in her career as Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina.
But she’ll leave the University of Washington a unique legacy—a number of modern family-building programs at University Reproductive Care and a family-building fertility package discount available to any UW student or employee seeking fertility treatment at UW Medical Center-Roosevelt Clinic.
Nearly two years in the making, the discount makes the clinic’s spectrum of services more affordable for any UW employee or student who might seek them—connecting people who are struggling to conceive with leading treatments in reproductive medicine. In many ways, it’s a gift that will truly keep on giving.
“Infertility affects one in nine individuals, or one in eight couples, and it can be emotionally and financially devastating,” says Neal-Perry, who currently serves as professor, division chief of Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility, and director of the Oncoreproduction Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
“As an institution that’s committed to the wellness of our employees as well as an institution that’s looking for ways to enhance the employee experience, this program was a no brainer.”
In the state of Washington, infertility treatment is not a benefit, so Neal-Perry and an organizing committee worked with HCA Authority and Public Employees Benefits Board to get this discount approved.
“We want to help people understand that infertility is a disease and infertility services should not be considered a luxury,” Neal-Perry says, underscoring how infertility is “not a cosmetic problem” and that infertility treatment is biological healthcare that’s needed.
“No one who desires a family wakes up thinking, ‘I’m going have infertility when I am ready to build a family.'” We want to have that open conversation and set the tone around the impact that infertility has on affected people and how access to fertility can change lives. People don’t often think about it that way.”
Trying to conceive? To coincide with this new discount, The Whole U invites you to hear from Dr. Neal-Perry a panel of fertility specialists at a special discussion about getting pregnant on Wednesday, March 4 at Alder Hall from 3:30 to 5 pm. Learn about fertility basics, diagnostic tests, and major fertility treatments. The event is open to the public.
The discount can be tailored to individual needs across an entire spectrum of fertility services. Neal-Perry is keen to outline the many people it can help benefit, including how it can help people who have cancer or other medical problems preserve their fertility as well as same-sex couples and unpartnered women who wish to have children.
“The discount includes a range of potential treatment options for a range of individuals,” she explains. “It could be as simple as timing intrauterine insemination for couples who might have ovulation problems or slightly lower sperm counts. Same-sex couples and unpartnered women can also benefit from that.
“The full range Assistive Reproductive Technology services is available for our UW community. For examples, someone may elect to preserve their fertility and freeze eggs or embryos for social reasons. Alternatively, a patient with cancer or cancer treatment that affects the uterus and the ability to carry a pregnancy, can have eggs harvested and create embryos. The package also includes treatment for the surrogate. The same is true for men who have cancer.”
Neal-Perry says being able to facilitate such services at a more affordable cost reflects the UW’s values of striving for equity and providing opportunity for employees to grow in their life pursuits beyond what they do at work.
“I’m most excited because this is a statement, in my opinion, by the University of Washington, by the School of Medicine, by the hospital that the UW is a caring entity—that what our community members value, we value,” Neal-Perry says. “We’re thinking about individuals as a whole: what makes us whole is not just what we do in work, but what we do at home and the things that we value. Those things we value are what motivate us to do the things that we do and this is just one piece of that.”
Neal-Perry says she is proud that UWM leadership supported the creation of the discount and hopes greater access to fertility services will help de-stigmatize infertility and change attitudes about the importance of access to fertility care . She says greater access coupled with informed discussion of options will hopefully dissuade individuals from engaging in risky medical decision-making around family planning.
“When couples undergo fertility services [but] don’t have infertility coverage, they’re more likely to take risks.”
She explains how the typical recommendation is for one embryo to be transferred at a time, but because there are often such high financial stakes in getting pregnant through treatment, sometimes people pressure physicians to put in more than one embryo at a time, which increases the risk for multiple pregnancy as well as the risk for pre-term delivery, high medical costs, and other poor outcomes.
Neal-Perry says she’s already begun hearing from UW employees who’ve learned about the discount and expressed excitement and gratitude because they now can afford fertility services they couldn’t afford before—that this could help them achieve their dreams of a family.
“To me, the most awesome thing I can do for someone is to help them achieve their dreams to have a family and experience parenthood,” Neal-Perry says.
Looking back on her career so far, Neal-Perry reflects on how she’d always wanted to be a doctor, but initially shied away from reproductive medicine.
“The funny part about that is that when I started medical school, I said, there is no way I’d ever do OB/GYN. But here I am doing it.”
What changed? When Neal-Perry started medical school, she thought she wanted to be an ophthalmologist, but after a medical school clerkship in OB/GYN and a subsequent rotation working in reproductive endocrinology, she says she quickly realized she couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.
“I was immediately drawn to the idea of being able to help people procreate—create lives. I thought, what an incredible job. We take reproduction for granted and there are so many things that can go wrong along the way that it’s pretty much amazing that you and I are sitting here having this conversation.”
The questions that continue to electrify Neal-Perry’s mind abound: “What it is about fertilization that triggers life? What triggers implantation—when the embryo becomes connected to the mother’s uterus—why are people success and others are not?”
“Research has allowed us to understand much more about fertility today than we did 10 years ago. However, we still have a lot to learn and I am excited to help advance the field.”
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Neal-Perry was the first in her family to graduate college—obtaining her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth before returning to New Jersey to complete an MD/PhD in Pharmacology, eventually gravitating toward Reproductive Endocrinology. She credits her mentor, Carol Folt, for encouraging her in this direction as well as Nanette Santoro and Ann Etgen who both helped her develop as a leader, researcher, and clinician.
After a residency at Beth Israel in New York City, Neal-Perry embarked on a fellowship program at Montefiore College of Medicine after which she joined the faculty, serving as the fellowship director and division research director for the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility and the associate dean for diversity and mentoring while continuing to grow her research and clinical practice.
Recruited to the UW Department of OB/GYN by Drs. Robert Steiner and David Eschenbach, the previous chair for Obstetrics and Gynecology, Neal-Perry moved to Washington in 2015. In addition to laying the groundwork for the fertility discount for UW employees, began working to rebuild the division for reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
“The other thing I’m proud of is helping to create a clinic within the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance focused on cancer and reproduction,” Neal-Perry says.
“The oncoreproduction clinic is intended to help patients diagnosed with cancer and who will receive chemotherapy or some other type of intervention that could affect their reproductive health and fertility potential. Our primary goal was to provide fertility planning services for a vulnerable patient population, reproductive aged patients diagnosed with cancer, and to help affected patients and their clinical team understand the impact of the anticipated treatment plan on fertility and long term reproductive health.”
Neal-Perry says the oncoreproduction clinic has truly offered a great opportunity to educate and empower patients with fertility management options and to forge partnerships with the outstanding staff at SCCA and the Hutch.
Outside of work, Neal-Perry gives frequent career development talks with a focus on women and underrepresented minorities about how to develop your career to have opportunities for success.
“I have been very fortunate throughout my lifetime because I have had people invest in my career development and help me understand my strengths and challenges as well as encourage me to step out of my zone of professional comfort. . I feel that my good fortune comes with a price and that I must pay it forward and share how I forged my path forward including a discussion regarding personal success and failure with people like me,” she says. “This is the foundation of my passion and explains why I do many of the things that I do and .”
To request specific information about the package discount, call the UW Medicine Roosevelt Clinic at 206-598-4225. To make an appointment with one of our healthcare providers, call 206-598-5500. Special pricing to current UW employees and students with a valid Husky card. The actual savings, which can be significant, will vary by type of treatment pursued. Learn more about Reproductive Care at UWMC-Roosevelt.
The Whole U invites you to join Dr. Neal-Perry and a panel of fertility specialists for a special discussion about getting pregnant on Wednesday, March 4 at Alder Hall from 3:30 to 5 pm. Learn about fertility basics, how diagnostic tests are used to identify problems, and how major fertility treatments can solve different issues. The event is open to the public.