Five provocative questions answered by an inspiring and fabulous woman – a woman with something to say.
Meet Shannon Winakur, M.D.
Dr. ShannonWinakur was born in Richmond, VA and graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Government in 1992. She is a 1998 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and did her internal medicine residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. She trained in cardiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She previously worked at MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates in the GBMC office and joined Maryland Cardiovascular Specialists at Saint Agnes Hospital in May of 2011. Dr. Winakur is the medical director of the Women’s Heart Center at Saint Agnes and welcomes the opportunity to increase awareness of the impact of heart disease on all women.
People would be surprised to know that: I enjoy fishing! I don’t get to do it often, but I treasure the times that I fish in the surf off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, something I used to do with my father when I was growing up.
The WTL 5:
What’s the conversation that changed your life?
I have had a hard time answering this question. I will have to say that it was an internal conversation, conducted over several weeks in the summer between my junior and senior year in college. I was a Government major (known as Political Science in most schools) and was headed towards a career in politics. I had become disillusioned with politics and government slowly over time, but more acutely after working in the Virginia Governor’s office all summer. Much of my time was spent answering letters to Gov. Doug Wilder, telling constituents that he would not run for President that year (1991), all the while knowing that he would. I then thought about law school; my father was a lawyer, and I saw myself as someone who would fight for the “little guy” in court. Fortunately I had a very honest teacher for the Kaplan LSAT review course, who did not hold back about what being a lawyer was really like. “It ain’t L.A. Law…” he would say. And I knew in my heart that to have to do public speaking most days would be difficult for me – it did not come naturally to me, which was also a big problem when I thought for running for office!
So I had to ask myself: why did I want to go into politics? Why did I want to go into law? The answer, as corny as it might sound, was that I wanted to help other people. The next question: was there something else that fit me and my strengths and goals and dreams better? I thought about all the “professional” options, as all of my friends were taking the review courses that summer for the LSAT, the GMAT, or the MCAT. And when I thought about medicine, that seemed to make much more sense. I couldn’t think of a better way to help other people. I work better one-on-one than in front of a group (although I have learned to like public speaking). And while history and social studies were my favorite subjects in school, I had always enjoyed science and found the human body fascinating.
So I am very thankful that I was able to have this conversation with myself, so to speak, and I am so grateful that at 21 I shifted gears and headed toward medical school.
What are you most conscious of today?
I am very conscious of the fact that there is a huge gap in awareness about the threat heart disease poses to women. If we’re lucky, a little over half of women surveyed in any study will say that heart disease is the biggest killer of women. It is BY FAR the biggest killer of women, bigger than all cancers combined! I am conscious of the fact that women are not taking the time they need to take care of themselves, because they are so busy taking care of others.
What part of you have you yet to give voice to?
I am very grateful to Saint Agnes for establishing the Women’s Heart Center, our program to help screen women for heart disease, educate women about their own risks of developing heart disease, and empowering them to change their lifestyles to prevent heart disease. I feel that my desire to help others in a broader way has been given a voice through the Women’s Heart Center. Another part of me knows that it takes even more than managing traditional risk factors for a woman to live her best life, as Oprah might say. I would love to add other components to the Women’s Heart Center in the future, such as information or offerings about yoga, meditation, and spiritual journeys, and other ways for a woman to take care of her whole self: mind, body, and spirit.
What’s the conversation women need to be having collectively?
Women need to have conversations about their health, and about how they can better take care of themselves. They need to have conversations with each other and their physicians about their heart health in addition to their cancer risks.
What needs to be said bigger, louder, stronger?
Women need to advocate for their heart health, just as they have in the fight against breast cancer. There needs to be much more research about heart disease in women, why it’s different, and how treatment might need to be different. It’s going to take more conversations, and louder ones, to increase funding to fight the BIGGEST KILLER OF WOMEN in this country, cardiovascular disease, which kills ONE WOMAN EVERY MINUTE in the U.S.!
Thank you, Dr. Winakur, for sharing your powerful voice with WomanTalk Live.