The t-shirt, jeans, long brown hair, and glasses make Amy Gilbert ’85 look more like a graduate student than the medical director of a community care clinic. Gilbert’s enthusiasm for her profession maintains that youthful perception as she describes why she loves practicing reproductive healthcare at the Family Tree Clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“In the exam room, I have license to ask very direct questions and to supply answers to some very honest ones that are generally hard for people to ask. If someone looks sad as they say to me, ‘Yeah, we’ve been together three months; he’s not very sure of this method of contraception,’ I can ask her about the relationship. And people will ask me things like, ‘What is an orgasm?’ That’s not an easy topic to bring up.” This type of interaction is“important to their well-being,” she says. “It’s essential to a woman’s life that she can control her fertility.”
This passion drives one of Gilbert’s goals, to help the clinic make emergency contraception (EC) widely available to as many women as possible. EC-—which prevents most pregnancies if taken within 72 hours of sex—is a hotly contested concept; earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration refused to allow EC to be sold over the counter (even though two advisory panels urged that it do so)—a decision Gilbert calls “purely politics.”
Though the drug, known as “Plan B,” has been proven safe and effective, she says, it’s rarely prescribed and many women don’t know it’s available. With the FDA’s decision, even women who know about it may be prevented from getting it quickly, which lessens the drug’s effectiveness. Gilbert is working to change that.
Under her guidance, Family Tree Clinic works with two local pharmacies to allow women access to EC even when they can’t get in to see the doctor first, and hosts a hotline that dispenses information about EC and other contraceptives.