As the only fellowship-trained academic urologist specializing in male sexual and reproductive medicine in the state of Indiana, Helen L. Bernie, DO, MPH sees hundreds of patients struggling with sexual health issues. But it’s her holistic approach that’s helping her patients take control of their overall health.
“When I see patients, I do a complete overall medical history,” said Bernie, who is an assistant professor of urology and director of sexual and reproductive medicine for Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Urology. “I'm not just asking about their sexual and reproductive health, but I'm also asking, ‘How is their blood pressure? Do they snore when they sleep? Do they have chest pain along with erectile dysfunction?’ Oftentimes, the sexual dysfunction or infertility may be the reason that brings them into the office to see me, but then I can actually diagnose underlying conditions that can greatly improve their overall health.”
The sexual and reproductive medicine specialty includes diagnosis and treatment for issues like erectile dysfunction, Peyronie’s disease, low testosterone or hypogonadism, infertility and more. Therapies for these problems can be medical or surgical, but it’s improving their quality of life that Bernie says can be just as impactful.
“I truly love what I do,” Bernie said. “I enjoy working with men to improve their quality of life, restore their confidence in relationships and improve their overall health.”
Bernie also treats male infertility for couples trying to conceive or young boys or adults about to undergo cancer therapies that could cause infertility in the future.
“We work together to preserve and improve their fertility so that fathering their own child can still be an option for them after cancer,” Bernie said. “For over 50 percent of couples that have difficulty conceiving a child, there's a male infertility factor involved that can be treatable.”
For many patients, these can be difficult or uncomfortable issues to talk about. Bernie works to develop a relationship with her patients to make them as comfortable as possible and even encourages them to include their partner, if they have one.
“We start by normalizing the process, because this is so common for so many men and so many couples,” Bernie said. “Sexual and reproductive health is oftentimes a couple’s issue, and so working through it together can really help mitigate any of the pitfalls during their treatment and enhance their intimacy together.”
After earning her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alabama, a Master of Public Health from Thomas Jefferson University and a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Bernie completed a six-year residency in urology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a two-year fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical College. Men’s health became a passion of hers, in part because of the ability to greatly impact a patient’s quality of life.
“Sexual and reproductive health are an important part of overall health as well,” Bernie said. “I absolutely love restoring intimacy and closeness in a person’s relationship with their partner and teaching them that that aspect of their life doesn't have to be put on hold due to undergoing treatment for cancer or because they've been having problems with erectile dysfunction or any of the other common sexual issues and side effects that we see every day.”
As a clinician for Indiana University Health, Bernie is developing a men’s health initiative to build a men’s health center that will include treatment of common sexual dysfunction and reproductive issues by using a multidisciplinary approach. As a faculty member for IU School of Medicine, Bernie is involved in several ongoing research studies to evaluate testosterone therapy in prostate cancer patients, male infertility and surgical therapies for male infertility. She has also partnered with the Indiana University Health Schwarz Cancer Center and Riley Hospital for Children to build a fertility preservation program for adolescents and young adults undergoing cancer therapies as well as studying preventive measures for erectile dysfunction and fertility preservation for cancer patients.
Fellows, residents and medical students are all learning from her expertise and passion for the patients she treats.
“The urology residents and medical students at Indiana University are some of the brightest individuals that I've had the opportunity to work with and teach,” Bernie said. “My mentors were so important to me in my own training and they helped shape the physician that I've become, and so I'm always really excited to share with others what was taught to me, so that I can pay all of that amazing training I received forward.”