TFI is a luxury lifestyle site, so you might wonder why I would choose to profile a doctor, a very serious gynecologic oncologist and advanced pelvic surgeon at that. Here’s why. First, Dr. Poynor is an expert in her field (my husband is head of cardiac anesthesia at Lenox Hill Hospital and has worked with Elizabeth many times, so this opinion is based on many with extensive medical experience not mine). But perhaps more importantly, because Elizabeth deals with women’s issues, often cancer-oriented, she has reorganized her practice to create a more holistic approach to women’s health that deals not just with diagnosis and solutions, but also focuses on preventative measures. Because good health is a luxury that many of us take for granted. What pro-active steps are you taking for your health? And if you do need surgery, what changes in your habits are you making post-op that might prevent a return to the hospital? Shouldn’t your doctor’s office feel like a safe haven where you can ask anything and feel like someone is actually listening and cares? These ideas are at the forefront of Elizabeth’s mind and her practice. And it is women like Elizabeth—women who continue to rethink how they can best help others, who can truly change our lives. Here, she shares what she’s going back to study, what she sees as an advantage women have over men career-wise (I agree), and her love of cow portraits.
How would you describe what you do? I’m a women’s health consultant. I have a private practice in New York City which focuses on the intersection of integrative care and traditional allopathic medicine in the care of women. We focus on prevention and disease through nutrition and lifestyle with stratification for disease and management of surgical and non-surgical issues in women.
I also have an interest and focus on health and lifestyle education for women on a larger scale through writing and visual education. We are also developing a natural apothecary devoted to women’s health.
What made you decide to become a doctor? I don’t think that I chose my path, I think my path chose me. It was in second grade. The story goes that one of my teachers in Oklahoma asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a neurosurgeon. No one can really figure out how I even knew the word neurosurgeon. Once I got to medical school, I found out I did not like neurosurgery, but became passionate about women’s health through GYN Oncology when I spent a rotation at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
After you finished your training what did you do? What came easiest for you in the beginning of your career? After I finished all my training, I worked at Memorial for over ten years. Then I went into private practice. I think the thing that came easiest for me in the beginning was working hard and caring for people. I had been a lifeguard who ran swimming pools when I was growing up. It’s always been in my DNA.
What was one of the hardest parts about becoming a doctor? My initial answer to this is there’s so much comradery in medicine that people really prep for you for what is going to happen in the future because you are all in the trenches together. But the one thing that it took me until now, and I’m 55, to realize is don’t try to change the things that you can’t change. Move on. Go around it. Figure out a work around. Don’t keep beating your head against a wall and trying to change something that’s not going to change. My grandmother said, ‘Don’t go through the rosebush because you’ll get stuck by the thorns, go around it’. Now I finally really understand what that means.
Attribute that helps you succeed: Tenacity. I rarely ever give up on a situation. That’s also my downfall, too.
Role models: My role model continues to be my father. He’s super, super smart, but he’s extremely understated. People really never realize how smart he is. He always does the right thing and is a truly spiritual individual, but doesn’t wear that spirituality on his sleeve. He marches to his own beat. He sets his own course and lives by it. He’s certainly a dog whisperer–we’re all animal lovers in our family. He’s also very tenacious and has this really great outlook on life. Most recently, over the past twelve years, he battled and triumphed over almost lethal leukemia with courage. He continues to teach me and inspire me on a daily basis. He continues to tell me he’s not ready to leave this life yet, and he’s well into his eighties.
Best career advice you ever received: Follow your heart. Believe in yourself. Believe that you can do anything that you set your mind to.
Advice for someone starting out in your field: Always take responsibility. You need to take responsibility for the people that you’re taking care of. And also for yourself. You have to take care of yourself as we take care of others. But that ownership of a patient is tremendously important.
How is your practice evolving? We’re moving in our practice right now to a more complete and holistic view of medicine where we incorporate traditional allopathic medical approaches and more integrative approaches to women’s health. There’s this underlying, percolating movement towards more complete care of a person by their personal physician.
What is allopathic medicine? Allopathic refers to the traditional Western medicine that we practice. We diagnose a disease and we treat the disease. I heard a term the other night which I think really embodies what we’re trying to do in our practice. Somebody used what is now a very old-fashioned term, she said, ‘My personal physician’. Now we’re referred to as health care providers, not physicians.
Your personal physician should help you to navigate through your health and wellness in a holistic approach. And that’s what we’re trying to adopt in our practice. But this is completely at odds with our new health care system, which is increasingly relying on multiple layers of health care providers.
We want to be your personal physician. We want to help you live the best life possible through a healthy lifestyle–great nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, early diagnosis and treatment of disease along with risk stratification. Approaching it through disease prevention and lifestyle to help manage diseases once they’re established, but also to help prevent diseases so they don’t become entrenched.
We still do a lot of cancer surgery and we also do early diagnosis. When there is a cancer diagnosis being entertained or there is a complex gynecological or cervical problem, we intervene. But we also want to step backwards and say okay, we can put a band-aid on this problem and fix it with surgery or medicine, but how do we get to the root cause of this problem so we can prevent it from marching forwards? And also to prevent other diseases or other issues that may go along with this one illness.
Your going back to get a degree in functional medicine? Functional medicine refers to root-cause medicine. With traditional allopathic medicine, we’re great at treating the symptoms, but we’re not as great about saying, ‘why did this symptom evolve, why did it develop, and how do we prevent it from recurring?’ Incorporating again, diet, lifestyle, mindfulness and these approaches, not just going to the OR and taking a medicine.
So I have an integrative nutritionist that I work very closely with who is a person who intersects in the areas of nutrition, lifestyle modification and mindfulness. She’s also an herbalist. We also have a really great ultrasonographer in our practice. She becomes my eyes into the inner part of the body that I can’t see. We’ve incorporated her in our practice so that we can detect issues early. What we would like to do is establish a consortium of individuals who can help with meditation, who can help with mindfulness, who can help with acupuncture, who can maybe also help a little bit with Eastern medicine.
We’re trying to develop an experience so that when you walk into our office, and we don’t always hit the mark on this because we do have to see emergencies, we try to have it function more as a spa. We want you to feel empowered when you come to the office. We want you to come, relax, sit down, and decompress a little bit. And we hope that when you walk out of the office, whether you’ve seen my ultrasonographer, you’ve seen my nutritionist, you’ve see me, that you feel empowered that you have an approach to your health that seems possible.
The other thing that we strive to do is we want you to feel cared for like you always have a home to come to. If you have a question, if you have a problem, whether it relates to what you’ve seen me for or not, that we can always help you out with it. We want that caring aspect to come through.
Three words that describe your work: Rewarding, creative and provides me with daily inspiration.
Three words that describe you: Hardworking, tenacious and a lover of life and humanity.
What motivates you? My patients. It’s the greatest job in the world to get to come to work and see anywhere between 15 and 40, depending on the day, really inspirational women. From my very young patients who are entrepreneurs and are starting their own businesses, to my patients who are in their 80s and well into their 90s who continue to live really great lives and ask me sexual health questions, it’s very life-affirming to see these women and be able to interact with them on a daily basis.
It’s also really inspiring that I get to help, or we get to help, these women. They trust us. It’s a huge honor and inspiration to try to do your best job possible and to provide your best care possible for our patients.
How hard would you say you work? Very, very, very hard. I love what I do. It doesn’t completely define who I am, but it is such a large component of my personal life. I’m always getting into trouble because I’m always on the phone, the computer, or thinking about something. I think my husband’s kind of given up because I’m always working, but it’s rewarding and it’s fun and I wouldn’t do anything else.
How do you stay focused? I do a lot of five-minute, in-and-out, meditations. If I start to feel overwhelmed by a situation (I can’t do this in the operating room that’s just a hyper-focus situation and that’s epinephrine), but outside of the OR taking–I call them my adult time-outs–where I sit down for three to five minutes minutes, do some mindfulness exercises, and meditate a little bit. It really helps me to refocus if I’m feeling overwhelmed by my inbox, or a personal situation. Just coming back to what’s important and how to deal with the problem really helps a lot.
When is it an advantage to be a woman in your business? I think with women it’s much easier, for whatever reason, to reinvent ourselves as we go through our careers. It’s natural as we gain experience to develop different interests and to realize what we’re good at, what we’re not good at. We start out very young in our careers and we don’t really truly understand our skill sets. I think in terms of our own personal skill sets—we have our educational skill sets, but what are we good at doing? I think that evolves as we age. And I think also, naturally, our interests evolve through life and work experience. I find that women can reinvent themselves a little bit easier than men can, for whatever reason. That is the largest advantage that I see.
Is it ever a disadvantage being a woman in your business? Early on some of my older patients were very concerned about having a young, female surgeon. I didn’t fit the stereotype of a cancer surgeon at the time. That certainly has changed. It’s really, really radically changed.
Life goals: My first goal is to live a good life. I want to pass on my passion and love of life to my son. And my other life goal is to try to keep the apartment clean for my husband. I’m not so good at that.
Daily goals: To make sure that my patients are taken care of, to make sure my son is happy and enjoying learning and life, and to try to talk to my husband and enjoy him on a deeper level than just talking about medicine all the time. He’s a surgeon so many times our conversations completely devolve into conversing about medicine and surgery. We’re like three peas in a pod and I don’t get to be in that pod as much as I’d like to sometimes.
Favorite motivational/inspirational read: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts. My husband bought it for me after we had a fight. He saw a book with a cover that the horse looked like mine. It was one of the greatest books I’ve read in a long time. It’s about how the US Army and how Patton’s troop helped rescue and keep a number of horses alive in WWII. These horses happened to be Lipizzaners and Arabians, which embody the beauty and art of nature. The book was inspirational because it demonstrated how a human will battle against all odds to keep a fellow living being and an ancient art alive.
Do you ride horses? I do dressage. It’s how I unplug. I have the privilege and honor to care for one of these Lipizzaner stallions who’s a direct descendant of the horses that were rescued in WWII. He’s from Austria. I ride him every weekend. I used to think that was a true luxury to ride him, but it’s actually an obligation to ride him because he’s descended directly from these great animals that were rescued by the United States Army.
Daily rituals: When I wake up in the morning before I even get out of bed, my first ritual is an affirmation. Not like a Saturday Night Live affirmation. But there’s data that if you put a smile on your face you’re going to be happier. I try to set my mind in the morning about how I’m going to approach my day and its challenges. It gives me firm ground to stand on during my day. Then I do oil cleansing, which actually is really soothing. I use an oil with aromatherapy and it gets my mind relaxed and my body going.
Hidden talents/hobbies: Candle making. [You can buy them here.] I love making candles. I unfortunately set a couple fires in the kitchen, but now I’ve learned how to appropriately melt beeswax so that it’s not a hazard to my family. I’ve stumbled on some different concoctions of all natural waxes and oils that seem to be a good combination, which are not carcinogenic, don’t contain fragrance or phthalates. It’s therapeutic and fun.
Are they scented candles? They are, with essential oils. Sometimes you don’t need the oils because the natural waxes are so lovely. Beeswax has a very lovely scent and when you mix it with coconut oil it’s truly amazing.
Do you collect anything? Turn-of-the-century oil portraiture. I love portraits, I find them interesting and haunting. They represent true human individuality; I try to look into why a person maybe painted a portrait a certain way and what that represents. I also like portraits of cows. I find them peaceful, tranquil, kind and just absolutely beautiful. I grew up in Oklahoma so I like cows. And horses.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: We took a recent trip to Africa and we don’t travel very much. And it was a big splurge, both time-wise and money-wise. It opened my son’s eyes to the world. He became this different person after he went to Africa. It was a splurge I will never forget.
Coffee/tea: Definitely coffee and lots of it. I’m always astounded that everybody tries to prove how bad coffee is for you and there’s very few medical studies. The majority of medical studies demonstrate that coffee’s actually good for you and helps to prevent dementia. Definitely coffee, rock on, in my world.
Morning/night: Morning. The possibilities are unlimited in the morning.
Truth/dare: Truth. I never have anything to hide, what you see is what you get.
Heels/flats: Heels, the higher the better.
Cats/dogs: Dogs, unless the cat’s a Bengal cat. Then cats are acceptable.
Follow Elizabeth: Instagram.
portrait by Rebecca Greenfield for TFI