Welcome to our Specialist Spotlight Series. We launched our Resource Library because we wanted women everywhere to know that urinary incontinence is a treatable condition, and for them to be able to explore what specialists and treatments might be right for them. In this series, we highlight some of the incredible specialists within our Specialist Directory, and shine a light on the ways they’re helping women every day.
Name, occupation, and where you practice.
My name is Sarah Boyles and I am a urogynecologist in Portland, OR. I am married with two teens, one cat, and one dog. My life outside of work revolves around my family. I am a passionate paddleboarder, an enthusiastic yogi, a fair-weather bike commuter and a reluctant golfer. I love living in the Pacific Northwest. My childhood was largely spent in France and Portland has a unique European flavor. Having grown up in other cultures makes me very sensitive to the unique differences between us all.
Your Purpose and POV
What inspires you to do what you do [professionally] every day, and how did you end up focusing on this profession?
Early in medical school, I realized that I prefered working with women. I also knew that I have a “fixer” personality — I like clinical problems that I can solve. Urogynecology is the perfect speciality for me. Women trust me with very bothersome, personal problems and we create and implement a treatment plan together. Each treatment plan is unique to a particular patient. It can involve anything from education to surgery. And while we can’t always cure the problem, we can usually make it much better.
I am inspired by my patients on a daily basis. I learn from them every day and I trust them to make informed choices about their treatment. There is nothing that gives me more satisfaction than helping someone live their best life. I frequently see women who have stopped golfing, running, or being social because of their bladder leaking. I get to help them return to those beloved activities. And this is why I go to work each day.
When it comes to women’s health (and your specialty), where is there still “work to do”? Any myths to dispel? Misperceptions about treatments? Attitudes to change?
The data around urinary incontinence is staggering. Almost half of all adult women leak but many women are reluctant to look for help. Many women don’t want to talk about bladder leaking or don’t know who to talk to. By the time women get to my office, they have often been leaking for 7 years and have talked to several other providers with little improvement. I created The Women’s Bladder Doctor to educate women about leaking, to provide evidence based data on incontinence and the associated treatments, and to provide resources. I want women to be comfortable talking about their pelvic floor health and not feel an associated stigma. I want to help more women that I could ever see in my office, especially since there is so much you can start on your own.
Many incontinence treatments aren’t supported by clinical data. They may work, but we just don’t know. These treatments can be well marketed, very enticing, and spendy. When you are googling treatments it is impossible to tell what is supported by data unless you do a deep dive in the medical literature. We need to do better — this really isn’t fair to the women looking for help. I’m working on a new project that collects reviews on treatments and presents the medical data — a kind of consumer reports for incontinence treatments. I’m calling it the “Better Bladder Guide.” Pooling real world data from women who have tried a product is a great start to helping women make informed choices. My audience is super excited about this — the idea of helping other women and getting more information really appeals to them. And helping the next woman make the right decision.
There’s so much work to be done in Urogynecology. A lot of it really is about making women comfortable talking about their anatomy and understanding their anatomy. NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) is an agency in the UK that makes recommendations on healthcare. They recently released their draft guidelines on pelvic floor dysfunction and recommended that girls 12-17 be taught pelvic floor anatomy and pelvic floor exercises as part of school curriculum. Can you imagine? This is a large step in the right direction that would also benefit women in the US and make the female pelvis less of a mystery.
Biggest misconception about a Urogynecologist? I am a busy surgeon but that does not mean you have to have surgery if you see me. There are lots of treatment options for incontinence. Just because you come see me does not mean you have to have surgery. You may just be exploring your options and that is ok. I have lots of other tools in my toolkit.
What advice would you give to women reading this when it comes to taking charge of their health/wellness?
If you don’t like the answers you are getting, get a second opinion. There are lots of doctors in the world.
What’s the biggest “lesson learned” (personally or professionally) to come from living through a pandemic?
We all need human touch. Removing it from the world for a year proved this.
Learn More About Urinary Incontinence: