Oral History: Dr. Michelle Berlin

This post comes from Zoë Maughan, Student Archives Assistant in the Historical Collections & Archives.

Image of Michelle Berlin against a dark background, taken from oral history interview video recordingA new oral history interview is now available in the OHSU Digital Collections. This entry comes from Michelle Berlin, M.D., M.P.H., who was interviewed in May 2018 by Kara Christenson for the OHSU Oral History Program. Dr. Berlin has played a prominent role at the Center for Women’s Health since joining in 2001. In this interview, Berlin discusses her experiences in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, preventive medicine, and public health. Reflecting on her career, she highlights the importance of maintaining a relationship between individual clinical health and public health.

Over the course of her time at OHSU, Berlin has been a key member in the Center for Women’s Health. She is the current Director of the Center, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the School of Medicine, and a professor in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. In 2000, she co-authored Making the Grade on Women’s Health: A National and State by State Report Card at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and continued this work at OHSU, establishing a model for assessing women’s health data. In this interview, Berlin talks about her use of data to understand what kinds of issues are most important for women’s health and how her background in epidemiology and biostatistics has proved helpful in her practice.

Dr. Berlin reflects on the Center for Women’s Health’s dedication to the building of patient care around primary care and how it appealed to her. She describes how her studies of obstetrics and gynecology, as well as public health, inform her work as a care provider. She describes how,

Most of the ills, I think, that befall us in the United States, certainly, if not the world, really rely on public health measures to help alleviate them, as opposed to individual medicine. In some ways, a lot of what we do in the United States might be called illness care, or disease care, rather than health care, in that we tend to, again, in western countries often, to be looking at how do we take care of a problem once it shows up. But honestly, the better thing is to be looking at how do we prevent those problems in the first place.

Dr. Berlin’s recognition of the relationship between clinical care and public health encourages a more holistic approach to health care, highlighting important details of the patient experience that might otherwise go unnoticed. In the interview, Berlin remembers feeling distraught over a pregnant patient who abandoned her recommended bed rest. She later found out that the patient had no other means to care for her older child and had no choice but to return home. Stories such as this one illustrate the need for an ongoing relationship between private care and public health.

This interview reminds us of the potential benefits of interdisciplinary care, especially in screening and disease prevention for women. While Berlin looks back on the early 2000s in this interview, her advocacy for holistic care remains relevant today. In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Berlin’s thoughtful approach to care is worth keeping in mind.

Find the full transcript in OHSU’s Digital Collections.