My practice is unique. I provide care for the total woman, using a holistic approach, which offers more than conventional gynecology services
The role of a gynecologist is defined as a medical specialist who provides health care for women in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders affecting their reproductive organs. But this description does not do justice to Michelle Starke, M.D., who does far more.
“My practice is unique. I provide care for the total woman, using a holistic approach, which offers more than conventional gynecology services,” says Dr. Starke. As medical director for the Center for Gynecology and Restorative Medicine in Coral Gables, she combines state-of-the-art gynecological adverb care with the latest in anti-aging and restorative medicine.
This is in keeping with Dr. Starke’s mission, which has always been centered on a holistic approach. Growing up in Potomac, Md., she loved biology and traces her interest in becoming a doctor to her cousin, a cardiologist. Dr. Starke excelled in school and earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., afterward completing her obstetrics and gynecology training at the University of Maryland.
“During medical school I found gynecological pathology very interesting. I also discovered I liked working with women. OB-GYN offers the combination of medicine and surgery, so it’s the best of both—combined,” she said. “I also liked the fact that I got to take care of women throughout their whole lives and build a relationship with my patients, unlike surgeons, who take out an appendix, for example, and never see the patient again,” she added.
After her training, Dr. Starke headed to Miami to begin her practice. Joining a conventional OB-GYN practice, she delivered babies and cared for patients from young womanhood to post-menopausal years. But, over time, she discovered it was in caring for her older patients that she derived the most satisfaction.
“I realized that I wanted to go in a slightly different direction and, at the same time, my patients were pushing me into it. I was seeing so many who had come to me for symptoms that spoke to a hormonal imbalance,” she recalls. This coincided with her interest in hormones, which she had researched in medical school. Therefore, she decided to become certified in the new and fast-growing field of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine.
“This type of medicine is also known as ‘functional,’ ‘integrative’ or ‘restorative’ medicine but it’s all aimed at treating the patient as a total person, or holistically, instead of just focusing on a person’s digestive or reproductive system, for example. I look at the whole patient—I check hormone levels, nutritional status, how well they detoxify, and aspects of both the patient’s mind and body. Looking at the patient this way takes into consideration the entire body and I find that it’s much easier to take care of a patient and actually help the body return to health instead of just treating a symptom.”
The women who seek out Dr. Starke are typically older and seeking a holistic approach to their medical care. “My typical patient is in her 30s to 60s, but really, they can be any age. They come to me complaining of fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, stress, depression and a loss of interest in sex. Too often they believe they are supposed to feel this way as they grow older but what they are experiencing is symptoms of hormones that are out of balance. My job is to figure out a way to rebalance their hormones and, once I do, they feel much better,” she said.
A chief way that Dr. Starke does this is by performing not only the traditional gynecologic exam, but by testing her patients’ nutritional, vitamin and hormonal statuses and prescribing bio-identical hormones when necessary.
“In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative study was published, which drew a connection between post-menopausal hormone replacement and breast cancer. This scared a lot of doctors away from prescribing hormones and so, since then, a lot of women have been suffering,” said Dr. Starke. “But now there are more and more doctors who are seeing bio-identical hormones as the way to go,” she added.
That 2002 study looked at synthetic hormones. Bio-identical hormones are derived from naturally occurring sources and chemically modified to replicate the same chemical structure as the hormones that are produced naturally by the body. “This is not cookie-cutter medicine. I customize a woman’s treatment to suit her individually,” she said.
Dr. Starke also has additional training in nutrition to better help her patients fine-tune their diets and lose weight. She also provides them with ways to deal with stress. “Stress plays such a large role in the lives of most women and getting them to eliminate stress is one of my greatest challenges,” said Dr. Starke.
Most of all, Dr. Starke enjoys helping women navigate the challenges of aging. Since transforming her practice, the increase in the number of patients she is caring for has been dramatic, she says, adding, “This type of medicine is what women have been searching for.”
In her spare time, Dr. Starke enjoys organic gardening and creating delicious dishes from the harvest. She also loves spending time on the water and enjoys scuba diving with her husband, Richard, and their two sons, Max, 15, and Sam, 12.
Holistic care is what women search for.
By Charlotte Libov