Dr. Andrea Jackson got an early start in women's health: As an undergraduate, she served as a peer educator, teaching her fellow students about contraception and annual exams. Now an attending physician and assistant clinical professor of gynecology at UCSF, Jackson continues to help women of all backgrounds make smart choices about their family planning needs.
Doctor Q&A: Andrea Jackson
We asked her a little bit about her path to UCSF.
How did you end up going into medicine?
My mom is nurse, and I always saw how people really respected her and came to her for medical advice — they still do. So naturally I thought that the smartest person in the world was a nurse.
Once I got into high school somehow I had decided that I actually wanted to be a doctor. In my first year of college, I got a little bit discouraged from being pre-med because people said it was really hard and that I should have a backup, just in case.
So I started out as an engineering major. I didn't solidify that I was definitely going to do medicine until my second year of college. At the time I was looking for an extracurricular, volunteer activity, and I saw a sign for peer-education training, in the gynecologic/contraceptive area at the health center on campus.
Once I did that, I just knew.
I was a part of the program for three years. My role entailed talking to women who came in for their first annual exam — their first Pap smear. I'd talk to them about what it was going to be like, what the whole point of the exam was and also about STDs and contraception.
When did you settle on obstetrics and gynecology as your specialty?
It's funny because in medical school there were so many people who claimed to know what they wanted to specialize in from the get-go. Of course, not everyone stuck to it!
For me, I didn't really know what OB/GYN was about. I knew I wanted to work with women's health but that there are many paths to it.
I was actually pretty open to many things, and it was my peers who said, "I can see you doing OB/GYN." I think that part of why they said that is because my peers started having children, meaning they were engaging a lot with their OB/GYN. And they thought that personality- and demeanor-wise I would be good in the field.
During our clinical rotations, the first one I did was general surgery. Initially I loved it. I really loved being in the operating room. Toward the end I got to work with a breast surgeon, and I realized that while I do like surgery, I really missed the connection with women that I could get in OB/GYN.
Once I finally did my OB/GYN rotation, it totally solidified it for me.
What has been the most rewarding part of being at UCSF?
I came to UCSF as a fellow and, coming from another high-profile institution, what struck me was the commitment to education here. It really made me passionate about working here.
Everyone is so committed to educating future doctors. And beyond that, their commitment to taking care of the most vulnerable patients, to giving evidence-based, compassionate care to everybody.
It feels almost like social medicine: We are not just looking at the patient and their medical problems, but at how their lives and life experiences can contribute to those problems.
What is exciting to you about your field right now?
In terms of contraception, it's amazing. We are on the cutting edge. We can offer birth control that lasts three years and goes in your arm.
I love that the innovations keep coming and that we keep refining our methods, with the goal that every woman can find a method that works for her.
Are there any myths or misconceptions in your field?
I think people forget that we are not just obstetricians but gynecologists too. I find that sometimes people think we are just focused on the baby part and don't remember that there are many other issues that we can help with.
As OB/GYNs, we are nestled between medicine and surgery. We are not just delivering babies; we run the whole gamut of reproductive health and can help women in many ways.
I get patients who come in a few years after having had their last baby and say they simply forgot that they still had to come in annually as a preventative measure.
I have a few patients for whom I am managing their blood pressure. I met them in the emergency room when they had a gynecologic issue, but I saw that they also had elevated blood pressure and hadn't seen a primary care doctor.
Many young, healthy women don't see a doctor until they get pregnant, meaning some of their non-obstetrical issues are going untreated. They often end up in an OB/GYN office before they end up in a primary care office!
For me, this is gratifying to see the spectrum of issues for women. I feel like I am building relationships with my patients rather than just taking care of one aspect of their health.
What would you be doing if you hadn't gone into medicine?
If hadn't become a doctor, I think I would be a teacher. I would either do high school calculus or high school biology. I kind of like the really intense, high-strung learners — which is perfect for me, as I am in academic medicine!
What do you do outside of work?
I played volleyball in college, so I have always been active. But since moving to San Francisco, I have really gotten into running. I've run two marathons in the last two years.
My dad had always been trying to get me to run the Los Angeles Marathon with him, and now I see why he's so into it! I usually train early in the morning before work. It energizes me for the rest of my day.
I grew up in San Diego and love being outside, especially because I spend so much time indoors at work.