Something fundamental attracted Toni Long to obstetrics and gynecology. “It’s primary care, it’s educating women about so many things in their lives, and it’s everything from surgery to obstetrics to birth control,” she says — but she liked delivering babies the best. “What’s better than bringing new life into the world?”
In 2012, after 22 years, she switched focus and left a hospital-based practice in Santa Monica for the Eisenhower George and Julia Argyros Health Center in La Quinta. It’s an outpatient office whose typical patients are older women with aging-related issues like hormone imbalance, pelvic prolapse, urinary incontinence, and menopause.
“As I’ve matured, my patients have matured,” Long notes. “Now, I’m trying to improve quality of life. I’m 56, so when we’re talking about menopause and hormones, I can relate.”
Her ability to relate is partly what drew Long into medicine itself. Suffering from health problems as a child, she got an early front-row view of the profession. “I was exposed to a career that seemed wonderfully relevant,” she says, “and the chance to actually do something important and make an impact in a person’s life.”
As a doctor, she’s kept to that priority, refusing to let the “glitz of technology” detract from one-on-one time with patients. She is excited advances like customized gene therapy “could someday help us more accurately diagnose, treat, and maybe even prevent some diseases,” she says. “Patients want a doctor with compassion, who empathizes with their condition. I sit and talk with women; I’m not sitting with my computer,” she adds. “Patients come in and immediately share their most intimate concerns and fears; they are literally naked. It’s important they feel they’re talking to an authentic human being who really is listening and will talk to them on a straightforward level so they feel heard.”
That’s going a bit against the grain in a healthcare world that values efficiency and the bottom line.
“But I tell people that being a doctor is sometimes like being a parent,” says Long, who’s now married but has an 18-year-old daughter she adopted as a single mother. “You sometimes have to make tough decisions, whether people like it or not.”
VIDEO: A conversation with Dr. Toni Long