Domestic violence deeply touched the life of Carol Stanford, M.D. ’79, when one of her colleagues was murdered many years ago.
At a Sept. 28 lecture at the UMKC School of Medicine, Stanford shared the story of that crime while exploring what physicians can do about the problem of intimate partner violence.
Stanford, delivering the 2017 Marjorie Sirridge Outstanding Women in Medicine Lecture, said such violence causes “tremendous emotional, social and economic dislocations” and crosses all demographic lines.
To illustrate that, Stanford told about reading a newspaper report of a “Johnson County soccer mom” who had been killed, and her businessman husband arrested. She found out a few hours later that the victim was her nurse practitioner.
“This is real and touches each of us,” said Stanford, associate professor at the School of Medicine. Most victims are women in heterosexual relationships, she noted, but men also can be victimized. Abuse also occurs in same-sex relationships and ones involving bisexual or transgender partners.
According to Stanford, 2 million women in the United States suffer intimate partner violence annually. Of those, more than 300,000 are pregnant women. One-third of homicides stem from intimate partner violence, Stanford said.
In their lifetimes, one in four women and one in seven men will experience severe intimate partner violence. By one estimate, the costs of care and economic loss from intimate partner violence are more than $8 billion a year. A victim’s health care needs can be increased for 15 years after such abuse, Stanford said.
She went on to say that it’s important for physicians to be aware and look for a wide range of physical symptoms that can indicate abuse, along with psychological problems, including depression, low self esteem, anxiety and substance abuse.
“I’ve started asking routinely, ‘Have you ever been abused?’ or ‘Do you feel safe in your relationship?’ ”
Prenatal care calls for particular vigilance, she said, given women’s vulnerability during that time. The safety of children in an abusive household also must be considered and physicians must report abuse if there are minor children.
In educating future physicians, Stanford said that it’s important to include clinical experience with victims, and suggested integrating more education about intimate partner violence into the curriculum. Students are becoming more aware of the issue through their community involvement, such as volunteering at such places as the Rose Brooks Center for domestic violence victims.
Stanford also said it was important for physicians to do their part because to raise awareness and battle domestic violence. An abused partner’s situation can be difficult and complicated, so a physician may provide a confidential ear, limited by the need to report child endangerment. The criminal justice system, a victim’s employer and other institutions simply can’t address the problem alone, she said.
Stanford also provided several resources to aid physicians in referring victimized patients for help.
“I think it’s important that we empower patients, because they are the expert on their own situation.”
As violent as the world is, Stanford says she is optimistic. “I think the key to solving this, ultimately, is gender equity. We need a multi-disciplinary educational approach.”
Stanford is a longtime faculty member and docent, known for her dedication to students and involvement with their activities. She has served as faculty adviser or sponsor for many students groups and programs, including the Gold Humanism Honor Society, the UMKC chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association and Camp Cardiac.
At the lecture she thanked her husband, James Stanford, M.D. ’80, and son, Ian Stanford, both in attendance. She also thanked the several members of the Sirridge family present and praised the late Drs. William and Marjorie Sirridge as giants in the success of the School of Medicine and its “humanistic approach to interacting with patients.”
The Marjorie S. Sirridge, M.D., Outstanding Women in Medicine Lectureship was established in 1997 to recognize her dedication, compassion and advancement of patient care and medical education in Kansas City.