Oneeka Williams, MD, is new to the team at Emerson Hospital’s Urology Associates. She is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and a urologic surgeon. But that is only part of the story for this multidimensional physician — she is also a storyteller, author of children’s books, and active public speaker and educator.
Why did you become a urologist? What do you enjoy most about your work?
I grew up in the Caribbean and knew that I was going to be a doctor at age 13. I fell in love with surgery because it spoke to my personality and I feel a sense of excitement and purpose in the operating room. On the first day of my urology outpatient rotation, I met an elderly man who had the misfortune of having a life-threatening scrotal infection. It was the urologists who saved his life by performing surgery and then worked with him in a way that restored his hope. As crazy as it may sound, I instantly felt, “Wow, this is what I want to do!” As the number of women in urology is still less than 10 percent, I enjoy being able to meet the need for women with urologic problems who prefer to see a female urologist.
How has being a black woman surgeon influenced how you care for patients?
Being a woman in surgery is fraught with challenges and being black feels like a double whammy. There is an assumption that you are everything but the surgeon. “You do not look like a surgeon” is one of the most common comments I hear. It can be demoralizing and irritating, but I have learned to turn those comments and assumptions into opportunities to educate, expand mindsets, and change the narrative. I engage with patients positively and in an open-minded way, extending grace because I understand that they only know stereotypical images. By my very presence I am raising awareness of what is possible and working toward closing the gap for those coming behind me.
What is the connection between the mind and health?
The mind-body connection is pivotal in optimizing health. There are many studies that identify the relationship between positive health outcomes and attitude. For example, people who are more positive are less stressed, have fewer heart attacks, live longer, are less depressed, and have better relationships. I see a lot of patients with painful bladder syndrome and pelvic floor dysfunction which are triggered and exacerbated by stress. If they are able to manage their stress through mindfulness and meditation, it improves their experience and management of their symptoms.
As a physician, your role is to listen to your patients’ stories and then use that information to care for them fully. Is there a patient story that has stayed with you throughout your career?
As a surgeon, it is very important for me to not have tunnel vision as I take care of patients. It can be tempting to see patients as only the organ system or body part for which you are responsible, rather than a whole entity. Today, the demands of medicine with increased patient volume and shorter visit times make it more challenging to entertain problems outside of your domain.
One of my favorite stories is a patient with an overactive bladder I saw over 10 years ago. She came in for routine follow-up and because I always checked in to see how she was doing in other aspects of her life, we had developed a good rapport. On one of her visits, I noticed that she was wearing a bandage on her leg and I asked her what happened. One of her cats had bitten her. Of course, I was interested to know more of the story, so I dug further.
What I discovered was she had been bitten over six weeks prior, she had taken some antibiotics prescribed by her PCP but the leg had not improved. I undid the bandage, and the leg was so infected that I personally called the wound care surgeon. She got admitted to the hospital immediately, was taken to the OR for surgery, and required multiple subsequent procedures. They told her that if I had not sent her that day, she would have lost her leg. She is forever grateful that I looked beyond her bladder.
If you wrote a book about your life, what would be the title and what would your favorite chapter be about?
I will soon complete a book about some of my life experiences. It is called Not Today, Negativity! 5 Habits of Positivity to Cope, Hope, and Be Healthy in Tough Times. If forced to choose, the one chapter that encapsulates what I have taken away from my life thus far is called “Launching Your Inner SUPERhero.” I have redefined SUPER to capture all of our unlimited inner resources we can apply so we can show up to care for others. They are the SUPERpowers of Selfcare Practices, Unlimited Mindset, Positivity Habits, Ecosystem Living (the importance of living in community), and “Realisk” Positioning (keeping it real and being willing to take risks).
THREE TIPS FOR WOMEN FOR GOOD UROLOGIC HEALTH
Dr. Williams shares these three tips to help women maintain good urologic health.
- Drink two liters of water daily. It is great for kidney, bladder, bowel, and skin health, among others.
- Good cardiac health is also good urologic health. So, if you follow the guidelines for maintaining heart health through balanced diet, exercise, stress relief, and eliminate smoking, it will also impact positively on your urologic health.
- Minimize caffeine. Caffeine is a bladder irritant and diuretic. It stimulates the bladder and can cause increased production of urine, leading to urinary frequency, urgency, feelings of incomplete emptying and urge incontinence. In some people it will trigger bladder and pelvic pain.
ABOUT DR. WILLIAMS
Dr. Williams is a board-certified urologist at Emerson Urology Associates. She specializes in female urology, incontinence and voiding dysfunction, interstitial cystitis, and pelvic floor dysfunction. For more information or to request an appointment, call 978-287-8950 or fill out the form on this page.