KPSOM Spotlight

Women’s History Month: A Conversation with Dr. La Tanya Hines

Fierce women’s health, mentorship, education, and community service advocate shares her journey to medicine and advice

March 28, 2024

Dr. La Tanya Hines, KPSOM Faculty Member

March is Women’s History Month, and the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine (KPSOM) is highlighting one of its own. La Tanya Hines, MD, FACOG, is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Science with KPSOM, a physician within the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, and an Equity and Inclusion Champion. 

Dr. Hines is a Clinical Preceptor to second-year KPSOM students in the OB/GYN rotation and a Clinical Preceptor in the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center OB/GYN Residency Program for the fourth-year OB/GYN resident surgical rotation. She fervently advocates for reproductive and Black maternal health education, student mentorship/education – particularly for communities of color – and community service. Dr. Hines is an Association of Black Women Physicians member and works closely with its Sister 2 Sister National Mentorship Program, which targets pre-med and medical students, fellows, and residents. She is a physician advisor for the African American Infant Mortality Steering Committee and a physician volunteer for STD services with the To Help Everyone (T.H.E.) Clinic at the Ruth Temple Public Health Center in Los Angeles. Dr. Hines is also a Media and Public Engagement Physician and Physician Ambassador of Community Relations and Marketing for Kaiser Permanente and frequently engages with media on behalf of the organization.

Dr. Hines joined KPSOM before the school’s opening and was among its first faculty members. Previously she spent 11 years in private practice before coming to Kaiser Permanente and has a background as a business owner and administrator, which gives her an interesting perspective on medicine. The OB/GYN specialty is particularly enjoyable for Dr. Hines because of its focus on primary care (e.g., caring for patients’ high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity needs); surgery; and sub-specialties such as oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, high-risk and severe pregnancy complications, and infertility. She says those who thrive in this specialty must love and advocate for women because they believe their health is important.

Today, Dr. Hines follows in the footsteps of her grandmother, a huge proponent of education, by providing opportunities, access, and resources to underserved students at Brentwood Elementary Science Magnet School, her alma mater. At a young age, Dr. Hines ventured from her neighborhood school to Brentwood Elementary Science Magnet School, which offered her exposure to ski trips, an onsite pool, and biology education, such as animal dissection. She went on to Palisades High School and later earned full-ride scholarships to UCLA and the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

Dr. La Tanya Hines (at right), KPSOM Faculty Member and Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center Obstetrics and Gynecology physician, and her colleague Kim Davis, CNM, are flanked by a banner celebrating the medical center’s Black physicians who provide excellent maternal healthcare

Dr. La Tanya Hines (at right), KPSOM Faculty Member and Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center Obstetrics and Gynecology physician, and her colleague Kim Davis, CNM, are flanked by a banner celebrating the medical center’s Black physicians who provide excellent maternal healthcare

“I'm of the mind that when you believe in the healthcare of women, you believe in the healthcare of all societies,” said Dr. Hines. “When your women are healthy, the society is healthier because we get healthier babies, which creates societies that are better.” Dr. Hines insists that women need safe, comprehensive care regardless of their resources, a lack of insurance, or insurance that does not cover basic care. 

Patient-doctor interaction and connection

As part of routine care, Dr. Hines said physicians should be curious about more than just what they are supposed to do, and she encourages aspiring OB/GYN physicians to look at each visit or patient interaction as more than an obligatory moment to get to the next step and instead focus on being present in the process. Dr. Hines insists that physicians should use a doctor’s visit as an opportunity to learn more about the patient’s physical history by asking, “What really brought her in today? Was it just because she had the appointment for the pap smear or are there other issues that she might be open to discussing?” If a physician discovers something of note during the exam, Dr. Hines advises them to present that information to the patient in a comforting and informative way. “Don't scare the patient and make sure that she understands that she needs to follow up.” 

Dr. Hines asserts that, for her, medicine is not simply a transaction of services. “Each and every single interaction is an opportunity to make a connection with the patient, to have an impact in their lives. You may not have an answer for whatever the diagnosis is, you may not even have an effective treatment or cure, but you do have your ability to connect on a human level and make that person feel seen and heard, and that whatever their concerns are, they are just as important to you as they are to them.”

She also stressed the importance of working efficiently, sharing the next steps of the exam with patients, leaving patients with as much information as possible, acknowledging when you do not have all the answers, and following up with the patient once more research has been conducted and more information can be provided. Dr. Hines also encouraged physicians to invite patients back in the office at a specified time if unable to cover all necessary information, such as a diagnosis, within the initial visit and she implores physicians to let their patients know if a diagnosis is incurable.

The present state of healthcare

For many people, their healthcare experiences can leave much to be desired for a plethora of reasons. Dr. Hines posits that patient dissatisfaction stems from factors such as a lack of empathy that exists in a largely transactional healthcare exchange system in which administrators run healthcare rather than doctors. She believes increased access to low-quality, less nutritious foods that promote elevated diabetes, blood pressure, and weight; a dwindling number of physicians; an erosion of trust between patients and medical personnel; sicker patients; physicians who prioritize financial security over patient well-being; environmental issues that affect the quality of life; and from a business perspective, general industry profiteering from health ailments related to blood pressure, blood sugar, and obesity also contribute to this dissatisfaction. In addition, to these challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed deep disparities within healthcare. 

“The pandemic pulled [the band-aid] off an ugly wound and told us that we were not doing what we were supposed to be doing and that the people who suffered the most are always the ones that suffer the most because they don't have access and resources,” said Dr. Hines. With all these factors at play, Dr. Hines said it is key to teach medical students to be as empathetic as possible and to relay that what they do matters.

“As medical students at [KPSOM], I would hope that women, medical students, and those physicians who are faculty who are teaching them, make sure [students] understand that a more comprehensive view for women's health is out there and that Kaiser Permanente … [is a] strong advocate for making sure that they get what they need.”

She added, “I believe in women's advocacy and their ability to make choices about their own reproductive health, whether they want to be pregnant, don't want to be pregnant, what's happening with their cycles, all of the things that we, in other fields, take for granted … we, as African American women and women of color. It has a direct bearing on me and my own children and what I want for them. So, that is why after 23 years of practice, I am excited each day to come to work. That leads to mentorship and education because it is a pipeline to get people like me and people who believe in the same things that I do, to be on the same road, which is why I'm involved with [KPSOM].

Dr. La Tanya Hines, KPSOM Faculty Member

Dr. La Tanya Hines, KPSOM Faculty Member

We asked Dr. Hines to share her thoughts on the OB/GYN specialty and modern-day healthcare. She detailed her journey to medicine and provided advice for aspiring physicians and more. The interview below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What most interested you in the OB/GYN medical specialty?

“Well, my mother had a stroke at 27. I was eight years old and having been born and raised in a community that is in South Central Los Angeles and underserved, I was directly integrated into the healthcare system because my mother was so young when she had the stroke. [My inclination towards] OB/GYN is because my mother had a stroke taking high-dose birth control pills and smoking. She didn’t know that she had an underlying history of elevated blood pressure, which runs throughout our entire family. And unfortunately, when we think about the dosing of birth control pills back in the 1970s, it was a much, much higher dose than it is now. Back then, she was taking about three times as much as today’s standard dose, and working and being a single parent and smoking … it was just a recipe for disaster. I watched my mother learn how to walk, how to talk, and how to take care of herself again.

“She was an amazing woman, and unfortunately, she passed away at 57, so that was just about 15 years ago. But she taught me a lot about the importance of service, independence, and advocacy. My grandparents are exceptional and pioneering people who left the South to come to California and they really believed in education. I am an only child, so I don’t have any siblings. It’s just about me. And so, I learned about the opportunities with education from my grandmother who was the first black woman to attend Bishop College in Texas, so she really believed in education and was kind of ahead of her time. My mother had five other brothers and none of them went to college. Most of them never even graduated from high school, but my mother listened to my grandmother. She believed in what she was trying to say, and even as a single parent, she did everything she could to create a very independent life herself. She bought her own home at [the age of] 24 and had that home before she passed away. She used that home to finance my education and she was just amazing.”

What is most rewarding to you in your medical practice?

“Believing that I am making a difference in the lives of the people that I see … that my education, my experiences are changing lives, improving lives, and impacting lives. I see that every day, which is why I’m at this location in the medical office building here in Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw, which is around the corner from where I was born and raised in Los Angeles. And it is a $1 million investment in this community, obviously not just for profit, but what the resources and finances of Kaiser Permanente can do. And I am a part of that, as [well as] many other physicians of color who are committed to taking care of this community, which is more than 30 percent of our patient population at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles.”

What are a few unexpected or less well-known aspects of practicing in OB/GYN? What surprised you when you started?

“The lack of health literacy that people did not, and still don't, know about their anatomy, as we assume they do. Grown women [sometimes do not know] truly where babies come from. How to prevent unintended pregnancies. The connection between being as healthy as possible in the pregnancy and the outcome. They have a strong advocate in the physicians who practice OB/GYN for addressing what we consider to be the social determinants of health. It's not just gynecology and all things non-pregnant, but it's also all things OB and pregnant and the impact that your environment and your village have. And it is surprising that many patients don't know that [physicians] can be very strong supporters of that.”

What are the top three tips you would provide aspiring physicians?

“Number one: Be prepared and understand you may be the only one in a patient's life at a particular time that makes a huge impact on their quality of life. 

“A great medical student anticipates that this is not an easy journey. Two years of biology, chemistry, physics, and math is a lot of work, and it's not just taking the classes, but it's doing well because you may be the one person who finds the diagnosis, treats it effectively, or recognizes a symptom that keeps that patient alive. So, those two things. Be prepared and then recognize your importance in the lives of the people that you take care of.

“Number two: Enjoy the ride. 

“There are a lot of ups and downs as you become your best self as a medical student but know that this is just the beginning of a process for the rest of your life as an excellent physician. And know that all things will not always be easy. Part of what makes you a good doctor is that you are going to run into adversity and you're going to have the tools necessary to be successful. And just as [students] think the SAT test was so hard when they took it, well, next is the MCAT. And they thought that was so hard. And then they get to USMLE parts 1, 2, and 3. That was so hard. And then they get to the board exams. It doesn't get easier. You just get better and recognizing that makes you, I believe, the best physician that you can be.

“Number three: Recognize your importance and the impact you make in patients’ lives.

“There are no small interactions with patients. There are no routines.”

While a patient may come in for a routine pap smear and preventative healthcare, Dr. Hines said a physician should always be inquisitive and document anything else of note observed during the exam. 

Much has been written about different types of healthcare practices and how patients often feel as though they're going through the motions at the doctor’s office within a very specified amount of time. In addition, doctors are often so busy that they can lose sight of connection with patients. What can you say about your work with Kaiser Permanente that allows you to dig deeper to create a connection with your patients to reveal more about what is happening with their health?

“Well, I think we learn tools as Kaiser Permanente partners and we invest in the beginning. There's a whole protocol we [as physicians] learned to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the patient, so investing in the beginning – that means stopping for a moment, recognizing [a patient]  as a human, finding something that you guys have in common – you do that before you walk in the room, read the chart—so once you’ve read the chart, maybe you guys have the same birthday, maybe they talked about their children with the previous exam - make a connection.

“Once you make the connection, sit down. I don't care how busy you are. If you sit down patients feel listened to … and when you do listen, listen carefully. Try not to interfere. Try not to talk. Just listen, and then once you're listening, start the exam.”