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New MHS Podcast Explores Women’s Health in the Military

Image of KeyserTL 465 x 220 px. A new podcast about women's health is available for download.

Over the past 25 years, the U.S. military has incorporated servicewomen into every occupational specialty, where they have demonstrably improved mission capability and success.

However, the availability and scope of women's health services within the Military Health System continues to vary significantly, with some MHS providers unfamiliar with delivering women's health care, particularly to servicewomen in the field. Helping overcome the specific health care obstacles servicewomen encounter is crucial to ensuring the readiness, health, and well-being of the military. This is one of the reasons why the MHS is launching its new podcast series, Wise Health for Women Warriors.

Wise Health for Women Warriors pulls experts from across the MHS's Women and Infant Clinical Community to answer the most frequently asked questions that military providers have about women's health. The podcast seeks to educate and empower MHS primary care providers to improve health care delivery and outcomes for servicewomen, before, during, and after deployment and throughout their military careers.

The Department of Defense has made great strides over the past 10 years regarding women's health – servicewomen now get 12 weeks of maternity leave instead of six weeks. And female service members are now protected from deployment for 12 months after childbirth. The podcast seeks to build on this progress by providing information and insight about overcoming health care challenges that servicewomen face.

Men don't have to think about changing a tampon or pad down range; or handling urinary urgency, infections, or incontinence when the nearest bathroom is half a mile away. After childbirth, men aren't required to return to work while still recovering and managing breastfeeding – and then go pass a fitness test. Men do not experience these demands on their body or women's age limitations on fertility.

I have experienced these challenges myself, both as a mother and a physician. In 2012, I had only six weeks of maternity leave and had to deploy six months postpartum. I had to pump and dump my breast milk all over Kuwait and Afghanistan while making my way through transient tents to get to Jalalabad so I could provide breast milk for my baby for at least six months. Professionally, I have met many servicewomen who delay starting a family to focus on their careers – a common and often difficult choice that makes infertility a real, widespread challenge.

Wise Health for Women Warriors offers an informed dialogue on real-world health care challenges servicewomen encounter and clinically proven ways to help address them. Through this podcast, my guests and I – and the Military Health System – are striving to make things better for the women coming after us.

Empowering Servicewomen

Servicewomen represent a growing and increasingly important subgroup of MHS health care recipients. According to the Defense Health Board's November 2020 report Active Duty Women's Health Care Services, women account for 17% – more than one in six – of active-duty personnel, totaling approximately 225,000 women across all military branches. More than four in 10 MHS active duty and beneficiaries are women, and women have emerged as the fastest-growing active-duty population.

The DHB report also found that servicewomen often lack access to – and even awareness of – products and services for self-diagnosis and self-care of treatable and preventable women's health issues, particularly in operational environments.

In response, the DHB recommended empowering servicewomen to perform self-care as equal partners in their care, incorporating gender-sensitive customization where appropriate. The report endorsed using digital health technology as a scalable, low-cost way to deliver health information and services to women in the military at the point of need, especially in remote and resource-constrained environments.

In addition to this podcast, the MHS offers a breadth of evidence-based digital health technology resources for women’s health. One of these is Decide + Be Ready, a mobile health app specifically designed to support deployed servicewomen in making educated decisions on contraceptives, reproductive health, and family planning.

Investment in the Future

It is challenging for women sometimes to stay in the military as they build a family and build a career. As servicewomen increase their prevalence and prominence in the U.S. military, the MHS must continue to meet them where they are, understand their needs and situations from their perspective, and help them best address those needs with tools that work best for them.

This approach to improving women’s health care is an important investment in the future. How the MHS addresses women's health issues directly impacts the number of women in the military.

The more we can make life better for servicewomen by proactively focusing on their specific health needs, the more we remove the question of whether women will have the medical resources and provider support they need to accomplish their mission, the more women will choose to join and stay

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