In 1995, two female cancer survivors were convinced it would be a worthwhile endeavor for Johns Hopkins Medicine to host an all-day conference for women like them who craved health education. Five thousand women and counting have wholeheartedly agreed.
The conference, begun that very year, is called "A Woman's Journey" and is an opportunity for women of all ages to come together in one place and gather health information from dozens of Johns Hopkins faculty members, many of whom are on the cutting edge of medical discoveries.
Leslie G. Waldman, associate director of marketing for Johns Hopkins Medicine and coordinator of the conference, said the event, now in its sixth year, has been "just an enormous success" and has exceeded expectations.
"We have sold out each year, and for the last several years have had a waiting list," Waldman said. Mailings about this year's conference have recently gone out, and Waldman said spots are quickly filling up.
In the past, women have come from 18 states to attend the event, with some returning each year. One group of family members has opted to make "A Woman's Journey" the location of an annual reunion, as has a group of former college roommates, who travel from points far and wide to attend. Ninety-eight percent of past attendees have rated the program either "excellent" or "above average."
Asked to explain the program's success, Waldman attributed it to one thing: name recognition.
"I think it is the Hopkins brand that is attracting people," Waldman said. "When people come to a seminar at Hopkins, they expect that they are going to hear from experts who are actually doing the research and are at the tops of their respective fields." And, she says, they know they will receive a very personalized experience.
The 55 speakers at this year's "A Woman"s Journey," to be held Nov. 11, are faculty members and other specialists who represent the schools of Medicine, Public Health, Nursing and Arts and Sciences; Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center; and two outpatient centers, Johns Hopkins at Green Spring Station and at White Marsh.
Waldman said the program is providing a valuable service that is much in demand.
Overall, Waldman said, interest in and awareness of health care issues have escalated in recent years due to the Internet. Whether a woman is searching for the symptoms of osteoporosis, ways to relieve stress or perhaps just the new fad diet, an answer is probably just a finger click away. The sheer magnitude of available information, however, can sometimes prove confusing, Waldman said.
"I think that is why hearing medical advice and facts straight from a Hopkins doctor is so valuable for these women," Waldman said.
The two women responsible for bringing about the conference are Mollye Block and Harriet Legum, the event's co-chairs. The two became friends when Block moved to Baltimore, learning soon after of their common bond. It was Legum's cancer experience in particular that got the pair thinking about health education.
Before she was diagnosed, Legum already suspected she had breast cancer through self-examinations. She went from physician to physician with her concern, each of them denying the existence of any cancerous growth. Then one morning Legum felt a change--the lump had grown larger--and she decided to go to Johns Hopkins. This time, she was diagnosed with cancer and was finally able to begin her battle against the disease.
Legum was to return to Johns Hopkins, not just to say thanks for helping her beat the cancer, but, accompanied by Block, to meet with Waldman and offer a proposal.
"They believed that women really needed to be empowered on health issues," Waldman said. "They wanted to find a way to provide women with health education so that they would be in a better position to purchase health care for themselves and their families. The conference was born from that one meeting."
Among those instrumental in the success of the conference have been Christine White, assistant dean for medicine in the School of Medicine, who works with Block, Legum and Waldman to plan the programs, and the 135 volunteers who staff the event and work behind the scenes.
The sixth annual "A Woman's Journey" will be held at the Sheraton Inner Harbor and will run from 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. The fee for the conference is $50 per person, including a continental breakfast, lunch and handouts; a reduced fee of $35 is offered to any full-time matriculating student with school identification.
The participants--limited to the first 1,000 who register--will choose four sessions from among 44 health topics, including "Oh, My Aching Feet"; "The Validity of New Claims about Estrogen"; "Arthritis"; "Differences in the Brains of Males and Females"; "Preserving Your Marriage"; "GYN Cancers"; and "Being 30: A User's Guide for Future Health."
Those who attend need not miss anything, however, as audiotapes of each seminar will be available on-site following the event.
Each seminar consists of a 30-minute formal presentation and a 15-minute question-and-answer period. Waldman said the faculty have worked very diligently to target their presentations to a well-educated but non-health professional group.
The question-and-answer period has been extended from previous years as a response to attendees' interest.
"Some questions are just general information seeking, while others are very personal," Waldman said.
The topics are chosen based on informal focus groups, program evaluations and the latest in Hopkins research.
"Every year we try to vary the program a little bit, both because we know there are people who want to return and because we want it to feel fresh," Waldman said. "In the past we have done seminars on the aging eye, GI issues, sports medicine for women, pregnancy and infertility, just to name a few. We also try to anticipate what people are going to be hearing about in the near future. For instance, there may be a new drug approved that will work much like Viagra, and there is some controversy about the use of Viagra in women. So this year we made that one of the topics."
The conference will begin with a plenary session titled "The Power of Women--Shaping the Lives of Those They Love," presented by renowned Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin S. Carson, whose mother inspired his journey from inner city Detroit to the pinnacle of medicine.
Also, participants will have "Lunch with the Faculty," to be held in six rooms. Each lunch session will be moderated by a "notable" Baltimorean, among them figure skater Dorothy Hamill. The lunch session also will include vendor booths; book signings by various speakers; and a cyber cafe, staffed by Milton S. Eisenhower Library personnel, where participants can learn how to retrieve health care information online.
Waldman said "A Woman's Journey" can be quite a powerful experience.
"It really has been just so rewarding for everyone involved," Waldman said. "We are so grateful to the faculty who have participated. They have touched the lives of so many people, some of whom have become their patients. I feel we have really made a difference here."