As far back as kindergarten, Katherine Rotker had her heart set on a career in medicine. A teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she answered, “OB/GYN.”
“They delivered babies, and that sounded fascinating to me,” Rotker says.
Although her choice of medical specialty evolved over time, her overall goal endured. Today, Rotker’s work focuses on sexual medicine and male infertility, and the stigma associated with them. As an assistant professor in clinical urology with a dual appointment in obstetrics and gynecology, she works with patients at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London and at the Yale Fertility Center in Orange. She also conducts groundbreaking research in equity and gender in the field of urology.
We caught up with Rotker for the latest edition of Office Hours, a Q&A series that introduces Yale newcomers to the broader university community.
Why did you choose urology as your main specialty? Who were your role models?
Katherine Rotker: My parents, Dr. Robert Lang and Kathy Lang, were my biggest role models. My mother is very much a people person, and my dad was a urologist who loved his job. In medical school I did a rotation in urology, in part because I wanted to understand what my father did with his day, and I loved it — the variety of cases, the continuity you have with patients. Urology is a diamond in the rough, a secret surprise that not many people in medical school know about.
I did my medical residency at Brown University, and one of my mentors there was Dr. Mark Sigman. He is one of those doctors you want to model yourself after, in how he practiced, researched, and treated patients. He’s a male infertility specialist, and that’s part of what interested me in that subspecialty.
How do you help patients deal with the stigma associated with male infertility?
Rotker: The main thing is helping them understand these are common problems that affect a lot of men: infertility, erectile dysfunction, Peyronie’s disease. They’re private and upsetting, but they are very common and can be treated. We have a lot we can do to help these patients. Normalizing things, listening to patients, and having appropriate expertise is all you need to make people comfortable.
You also conduct equity and gender research in urology. What are some of your research findings?
Rotker: We did a study that looks at general urologists, doctors who describe themselves as generalists. We looked at their case logs over a decade, and female urologists tended to have more female-based cases and patients. To me, what it says is that if you are a woman in urology who has an interest in other things beyond female-based cases, you may need to pursue some advanced training to ensure that you’re getting a practice that aligns with your interests.
Another area I’ve looked at is industry payments in urology. These are payments for running medical trials, doing educational work, and research and development. I found that male urologists were being paid significantly more than their female counterparts.
What is your approach to balancing your research work and your patient care work?
Rotker: If you have the answer for the best way to do it, please tell me! Getting to do both is such a privilege. I find that if you have different passions, they keep you interested. When one becomes more difficult, having the other one is nice.
What is something about your life outside of medicine that might surprise people?
Rotker: As an undergraduate at Dartmouth, I considered becoming an English major before ultimately choosing biology. My tastes in literature are somewhat eclectic, but one of my favorites growing up was Agatha Christie. She’s always been my go-to when I need a distraction.
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