Champion of women's sexual health, physician, and educator June LaValleur, MD, has retired from the University of Minnesota. LaValleur was an unconventional medical student, admitted to medical school at age 41 and the oldest student to be accepted to the University of Minnesota Medical School at that time. She was an unconventional ob/gyn physician as well, focusing on sexual function and mature women's health while most of her colleagues in the field focused on assisted reproduction and delivering babies. There is no reason for us to expect that LaValleur will be a conventional retiree.
After 18 years on faculty, LaValleur retired in June 2009, as an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health, and the director of the Mature Women's Center. Although LaValleur no longer has to get up early for 6:30 a.m. meetings, her days are filled with ambitious projects. She and her new husband, Duane Rost, have been traveling and setting up their home, and this week they attended the "Purpose Project" workshop at the University's Center for Spirituality and Healing. Her future plans include creating an advice column and radio show on the topic of midlife women's health, national speaking engagements, and possibly writing a book about rural Minnesota. Two committees at the University have asked LaValleur to continue her work with them, including the Medical School on the grant "Taking It to the Next Level: Advancing Awareness and Equity of Medical Trainees with Invisible Disabilities" and at the Humphrey Institute on the Status of Women and Girls in the Health and Reproductive Rights working group. She does plan to indulge in some of the more traditional acts of retirement like visiting her five grandchildren, traveling to Alaska, adding to her family's genealogy, and revisiting her golf game.
In the midst of her busy retirement, LaValleur has found time to miss her patients and her students. She said, "One of my joys was to partner with my patients in their health care decisions. There was not a day that I worked that I was not rewarded by seeing patients. I am a relationship person and there are many patients that I will remember forever." LaValleur tried to impress upon the medical students and residents that she taught the importance of building relationships and clear communication with patients. She would tell them, "In this rotation you will learn about osteoporosis, menopause, and hormone therapy, but I also want you to pay particular attention to how to be with patients."
In her years of practice LaValleur has seen many patients with issues of sexual function. She said the first thing to understand is that, "so many people have this issue, regardless of age. The issue is almost always a fixable problem. Often the solution involves education of the person and their partner, and about half the time the issue is one of communication." As people age new issues can arise including loss of libido and issues related to menopausal symptoms. LaValluer sees improved sexual health education as a primary solution to sexual functioning problems. "We have greatly improved our knowledge about sex, sexuality, and sexual function; however, the methods of disseminating the information have gone largely unchanged since the 50s, 60, and 70s." She continued, "Sexual functioning issues are difficult to talk about because we lack education on how to talk about sex. Issues are embarrassing and often you don't have anyone to talk to, and it is something you may not even share with your best friend. We must continue to educate individuals and their doctors about sexual health and sexual communication."
As a medical student, LaValleur completed a rotation at PHS, and she has been a strong ally ever since. She is an active supporter of PHS, a co-instructor for the Human Sexuality course for medical students, and serves as a member of the PHS Leadership Council. PHS professor and director Eli Coleman, PhD, describes LaValleur as "an outstanding role model and effective teacher making sure that future physicians approach the sexual health care needs of their patients seriously, compassionately, and without judgment. In addition, she was an amazing resource for patients with sexual problems providing the highest quality sexual health care, and we will miss the specialty care she has provided for women struggling with sexual functioning issues. We are fortunate that her avid support of PHS will continue through her personal work and engagement with the Leadership Council. June has truly changed the lives of many people, and we are eternally grateful."
Throughout her career LaValleur authored numerous publications and participated in many investigational studies including the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study (HERS) and the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). In 2006 she was awarded a Bush Medical Fellowship to develop computer and interactive teaching skills, learn how to write a medical advice column, and through the University's Center of Excellence for Women develop a website on the topic of midlife women's health issues. In 1998 the Minnesota Medical Foundation chose Dr. LaValleur to be the recipient of the first annual Distinguished Alumni Award.
Learn more about June LaValleur through the video of her talk Women's Health: What Have We Learned, Where Are We Going? presented on Friday, June 12, 2009, at the Year End Celebration of the University's Women's Leadership Institute.
HERS and WHI study publications:
Hulley, S., Grady, D., Bush, T., Furberg, C., Herrington, D., Riggs, B., et al. (1998). Randomized trial of estrogen plus progestin for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease in postmenopausal women. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 280(7), 605-613. doi: 10.1001/jama.280.7.605
Hulley, S. B., & Grady, D. (2004). The WHI estrogen-alone trial--do things look any better? JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 291(14), 1769-1771. doi: 10.1001/jama.291.14.1769
Rossouw, J. E., Anderson, G. L., Prentice, R. L., LaCroix, A. Z., Kooperberg, C., Stefanick, M. L., et al. (2002). Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: Principal results from the women's health initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(3), 321-333. doi: 10.1001/jama.288.3.321
PHOTO: left to right (back) Duane Rost, Walter Bockting, Eli Coleman, Rose Munns, Anne McBean, Bean Robinson, (front) June LaValleur, Nancy Raymond
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