Throughout her life, cardiologist Dr. Kimberly Brayton, has strived to make the biggest impact in the field of health care. She has only been with Northern California Medical Associates (NCMA) since March and already is advocating for community awareness of women’s heart health.
During Dr. Brayton’s first week at NCMA, she was a guest speaker at a Women and Heart Disease event for WHAM (Women’s Health at Memorial), a women’s philanthropy group. “It’s going to be an important part of my practice,” she says. “Community events like this are especially important for women’s groups, as well as on-going provider education, and especially emergency room front line providers and primary care physicians.”
Originally from Petaluma, Dr. Brayton began studying health policy in law school.
“It felt like health policy would have more of an impact than treating individual patients, a more global impact is what I had envisioned.” While she found that good in theory, “I really didn’t find it so satisfying on the ground.” She discovered that while participating in tenant and landlord disputes, she really liked direct services to clients, something she hadn’t anticipated. What she really wanted was patient contact.
“It turned out that on a day to day basis what’s more interesting for me is to feel like I’m making a difference in individuals’ lives. I found that much more fun than my policy classes. It felt much more meaningful. I derive more joy from the face to face interaction. It’s more satisfying.”
Dr. Brayton applied to medical school while still in law school. She took the bar exam and started medical school two weeks later. While in medical school, Dr. Brayton maintained an interest in public health in general. And because heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S., for men and for women, it made sense that to impact a greater number of patients she would focus on cardiology.
“It would be interesting to me medically, but I would also be treating a population where there was potential for a greater impact.” Historically speaking, women have not been well-represented in the medical profession. Although the field of cardiology is male dominated, it’s getting better, Dr. Brayton says. Medical school classes in general have started to even out in terms of men and women, but in sub-specialties like cardiology, there remains a pretty marked imbalance.
“It’s true for cardiology as much as any other type of medicine. Which means that the type of data we tended to accrue over the last 20- 30 years gives us a lot of insight into men’s cardiovascular disease, but much less so for women, both in terms of the presentation of the disease and the appropriate management. And whether therapies are equally effective for men and women is less clear.”
Heart disease is the number one source of mortality for women. In fact, more women who have a heart attack will die from it compared to men. Dr. Brayton says “There are a lot of factors that contribute to that. Part of it is that women’s symptoms are not the same as for men. Women less often have crushing chest pain so they don’t realize they are having a heart attack, and part of it is media portrayal of a heart attack, which is always the male experience of having crushing pain. So awareness is a problem. The awareness of women’s symptoms of a heart attack is lower. It’s true on the patients’ side, in that they don’t come in quickly enough, and it’s also true for providers, where their clinical suspicion of heart disease is lower because it’s not a typical presentation of symptoms.”
That makes it difficult for the physician to make the correct diagnosis and treat women’s heart conditions appropriately, which leads to worse outcomes for women. “What that highlights for me is the importance of continuing to be an advocate and make sure that women are included especially on the research side. That’s been an interest of mine since I’ve been doing health services research, and then drug development research; how do we make sure that women are well-represented in clinical trials?”
Dr. Brayton finished her fellowship at UC San Francisco in 2013, and continued with a post-doctoral fellowship in health services research at Stanford University, which she finished in 2014. For the next two years she was intermittently practicing medicine while doing clinical research in cardiovascular drug development. But again, something was missing. “I found the research and drug development interesting and thought it would have an impact, but I had the same problem I always had– there was not enough patient contact. For me, it was pretty clear I needed to get back into clinic. At NCMA, this is exactly what I want to be doing.”
Dr. Brayton’s husband is also a cardiologist with NCMA, Dr. Vishal Patel. They have an 11- month old son, Aash, and they are expecting their second child in July. They also have a 6-month old puppy. When Dr. Brayton is not pursuing one of her many interests, she is “chasing her son around.” The family also enjoys hiking adventures to see the countryside.
Visit Dr. Brayton’s profile to learn more and call (707) 573-6199 to make an appointment.