In honor of PRIDE month, we sat down for a virtual interview with Heidi Wittenberg, MD, a Foundation board member and an experienced urogynecologist and reconstructive pelvic surgeon in San Francisco who works exclusively with transgender patients. Wittenberg is the Director of MoZaic Care Inc., and is a Master Surgeon of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology. Read her full bio here.
Q. How did you get involved in gender affirmation surgery?
A. I was already providing surgery for trans and gender diverse patients as a pelvic surgeon, when I was recruited by a gender affirmation surgery group to help them with their patients. As a pelvic reconstructive surgeon, I wanted to provide my help… and what is more reconstructive than this surgery? These procedures are the pinnacle of reconstruction.
Q. What makes the Gender Institute special?
A. The Gender Institute provides a safe and secure environment for a patient population whom have experienced: discrimination, judgement, overt & microaggressions, barriers in obtaining basic care, as well as lack of experienced providers. We are here to care medically, surgically, and socially for this underserved population AND to provide a safe space.
Q. What does it mean for the Gender Institute to be recognized as a Center of Excellence by the SRC?
A. Currently there are quite a few academic centers advertising that they provide care but do not have experience or infrastructure. This recognition shows the years of hard work and care provided by Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and providers. Dr. Edward Falces started providing surgery for trans-individuals in 1966. Other providers continued to provide care. Currently, twelve experienced surgeons operate at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. This is a high density of surgeons—the most of any US hospital. We are a national and international destination based on the surgeons experience. The hospital is an equal partner in providing this specialized care. I don’t think the public realizes the extent of care that Saint Francis Memorial Hospital has and does provide LGBTQ+ centered care. This Center of Excellence recognition was awarded based on our history and the continued growth of care for the LGBTQ+ community.
Q. How can we support transgender and non-binary gender populations?
A. A) Ask everyone what their preferred name and pronouns are. This should be normative. More providers need to be transgender and gender diverse care competent. B) The World Professional Association for Transgender Health provides many courses for providers in different fields. More providers means better access to care. C) It takes a village to help these individuals during their journey, whether they are endocrinologists, internists, mental health providers, electrolysis providers, physical therapists, social worker, lawyers, insurance advocates, hotel/airbnb support, transport, travel expenses, meal provisions, support persons caring for our patients, and a multitude of other support. If there is an opportunity to help in anyone’s current profession… please do!
Q. What are you most proud of in your work?
A. To enable someone to be at peace with themselves, to gain happiness and fulfillment with their lives. I am helping to the best of my ability. I have strived to learn better techniques, tools and procedures throughout my 22 years and professionally, I feel like I have been mastering different facets necessary over time. I was made for these procedures professionally. And I feel that I am full circle from my initial days of delivering babies. Now I am delivering babies again in a different way.
Thank you, Dr. Wittenberg! Click here to watch an incredible grateful patient video.