Dr. Catherine Bonk currently practices at Atlanta Gynecology and Obstetrics, where her clinical interests include menopause, minimally invasive control of uterine bleeding, and incisionless tubal sterilization via Essure. Her education and training include an MPH in Health Administration from Johns Hopkins University and an MD and residency from Emory University. Dr. Bonk also completed a fellowship at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She has been honored as one of the Top Doctors in Atlanta Magazine in 1993 as well as one of the Top Women Doctors by Atlanta Woman Magazine in 2003. Body1 recently spoke with Dr. Bonk about her practice.
Uterus1: When did you know you first know you wanted to become a doctor?
Dr. Bonk: I had family friends who were in medical school and when I was in high school I got to go with them to observe the emergency room. It was just a profound experience for me. Even as a kid I liked the mix of the art and science that is medicine.
Uterus1: How did you come to choose the OBY/GYN field?
Dr. Bonk: Well, I like preventive care and people taking care of themselves by knowing how to the right thing for their bodies and their babies’ bodies. This is a very positive time in people’s lives. People are more healthy than sick and I find that intriguing and rewarding.
Uterus1: You’re married with two kids, you play the guitar and like doing other activities. How do you balance everything?
Dr. Bonk: One day at a time. I spend time with my children. That’s an enormous priority to me and I encourage everyone to spend time with their families. I have a lot of people around me who are excellent physicians and excellent practitioners as well as an excellent office managerial staff. That just makes an enormous difference.
Uterus1: How do you balance the need to stay current with having a busy practice?
Dr. Bonk: Well, the demands of board certification require reading articles and keeping up attending meetings. But I work six other ob-gyns and we all work together to keep up, teach each other. I also work with other doctors in the hospital and I think, if one surrounds themselves with current doctors it’s easier to stay current.
Uterus1: What’s your biggest challenge trying to provide care to your patients.
Dr. Bonk: Time. There’s not enough of me and I also want to have a life. I have my family and a lot of people to take care of. There’s not enough time in the day.
Uterus1: Have you noticed any trends with your patients?
Dr. Bonk: Well, I mean this is for medicine and life in general. People are unaware that if they maintain their weight and exercise, that they will feel so much better. Obesity is a pervasive problem and rapidly topping the list as the number one health problem in America.
Uterus1: Are you seeing a lot of women that have fibroids?
Dr. Bonk: I see a lot of women that have fibroids. My recommendations are to first deal with how the condition is affecting their lives and if there is way to make a situation better, that it’s probably worthwhile pursuing.
Uterus1: Are we seeing more fibroids in the last ten years or are we just better at spotting them?
Dr. Bonk: I think we’re just better at spotting them. I would say that probably people in the olden days people just had hysterectomies and fibroids weren’t watched. So back then, the problem was hysterectomies not fibroids.
Uterus 1: Are you finding women are educated with their options for fibroids?
Dr. Bonk: Yes, I think that women are more educated and it there is an option that requires minimal time out of their busy life, they’re willing to pursue it. If it’s going to take a lot of time, involve surgery, incisions, pain, they’re not interested and they’re willing to do other things. We have more in-office procedures now.
Uterus1: You’ve been trained to do the Essure sterilization procedure. How does this in-clinic procedure work?
Dr. Bonk: It’s done through the vagina and cervix with a lighted scope into the uterus under direct visualization. We place coils that are about a quarter of the size of the springs in pens into the fallopian tubes. The body scars over the coils and blocks the tubes. It takes three months for the blocking.
Uterus1: Of course the next question is this: why didn’t we come up with this earlier and do away with long hospital stay, anesthetics, stitches, infections…
Dr. Bonk: People looked at this for a long time but the blocking was ineffectual. It just didn’t work. The tubes can push and dislodge things not completely motionless. So the old way was cut, tie, burn, pretty obstructive. Essure is one of the first methods that works.
Uterus1: What kind of procedures do you prefer when treating fibroids?
Dr. Bonk: Well it depends on what we’re treating and if the person wants their fertility. If it’s bleeding and they have no intentions for fertility, I prefer the ablation kind of procedures with a minimally invasive technique. If the fibroids are large, causing significant pain and there is concern about a patient’s ability to become pregnant, then I suggest a myomectomy, which is a much bigger procedure.
Uterus1: You also perform HTA (hydrothermal endometrial ablation) in your clinic.
Dr. Bonk: Right. I love this procedure. I think that out of all the office available procedures for endometrial ablation and for bleeding problems based on fibroids or not, it’s an excellent, well-tolerated procedure.
Uterus1: Can you explain how that procedure works?
Dr. Bonk: It’s done under direct visualization with a small probe that includes a tiny telescope so you’re looking inside the uterus while the procedure is being done. I think it makes it safer. The saline solution goes through the lighted scope and is gradually heated to burn the lining of the uterus and control the bleeding.
Uterus1: Does the HTA procedure have a high success rate?
Dr. Bonk: Very high. I mean in the 90 percent.
Uterus1: With that kind of success rate, why aren’t more doctors performing the procedure?
Dr. Bonk: Well patients worry about doing something like that in the office. Doctors are reluctant to learn how to do this because they haven’t done procedures in the office before.
Uterus1: And you’ve been in practice for a few years now for 17 years. What kinds of changes have your seen in your field?
Dr. Bonk: I think all these minimally invasive procedures have changed things. I think how we’ve done hysterectomies overtime has been a big change. This vaccine for this HPV virus, for cervical cancer prevention is a big change. Obstetrics changes every year. And I think the Internet has changed what women know about, not that they didn’t know before, but the Internet has just provided such rapid information dissemination. It’s actually makes it confusing to be a patient, to be and it’s very hard to figure out what’s good and what’s bad.
Uterus1: You were voted the top doctor twice, once in 1997 and again in 2003. What advice would you give to a doctor starting up?
Dr. Bonk: Enjoy everyday. Take it slow, you just never know what’s going to happen next so enjoy the present. And realize what a gift it is to be involved in people’s lives as part of their health care team. It really is an honor and can be incredibly rewarding but very fun as well. My patients are great. Every one of them has a story to tell and an amazing life that they’re living. Not many professions touch other people’s lives.