Behind the Mask: Eric Forman, MD, HCLD
#BehindtheMask is series that spotlights the faculty, staff, and trainees in Columbia University Irving Medical Center’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Today, meet reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist Dr. Eric Forman.
Fertility as a specialty in medicine fosters a unique relationship between provider and patient. During fertility care, patients may undergo difficult and expensive treatments and struggle with heartbreaking losses, all in the hopes of starting or growing their family. The specialists who guide them through these treatments may become more than healthcare providers – they can be confidantes, cheerleaders, and counselors, sitting side by side their patients to console in moments of grief and celebrate in moments of joy.
The relationship that develops between patients and providers is a natural result of the high-pressure nature of fertility care, with patients potentially racing against time and investing significant resources, financial and emotional, in order to achieve their goals, says Eric Forman, MD, HCLD, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist and Medical and Laboratory Director of Columbia University Fertility Center.
“There’s a lot of intense emotions and pressure to make the treatments work, and so during that relatively short period of time, we’re in very close contact with frequent communications and visits,” said Forman. “Patients might be coming in every other day during a treatment cycle – it’s not like you have a procedure and then see them again in a few months. You can hopefully make a really good connection and bond and feel like you’re in it together. They trust us to help guide them.”
Forman began his career as a journalist, and applied to medical school after an interview with a reproductive endocrinologist piqued his interest in the field. His early work as a health reporter helped shape his approach as a physician by underscoring the importance of listening to people’s stories.
“I always take time to listen to the patient’s story, in their own words, to hear what they’re thinking, what they’re wondering, what they’re nervous about,” Forman said. “I’ve learned to never assume anything – what they can do or can’t do, what they know or don’t know. You have to listen and be open-minded. I may have a treatment that I think is the best, but I’m open to hearing what their priorities and goals and timelines are and adjusting based on that. In the end, there’s a lot of ways that we can help couples have a healthy baby. You never know what the path is going to be like.”
While every person or couple’s fertility journey is unique, it’s always a team effort that includes contributions from many specialists, including fertility doctors, nurses, medical assistants, phlebotomists, embryologists, andrologists, minimally invasive gynecologic surgeons, and more. Working closely together toward the shared goal of giving patients the best experience and best outcomes possible, the team is right beside the patients through the entire journey.
“We work with the patients as a team to come up with a plan that fits their goals and hopefully gives them the best chance of success,” said Forman. “When we have a success and our patients are happy, we’re all happy. The whole office is happy. When it doesn’t work out, we all feel for those patients and hopefully try again and do something different. In many ways it is a unique kind of experience.”
Forman maintains an active presence on social media, where he shares his takes on industry news, updates from conferences he attends, as well as photos from his marathon run and Peloton group rides. His followers include colleagues from around the country as well as many of his patients, who share photos of their growing families.
“It’s nice to have a connection with patients now,” Forman said. “In the past I might never see the babies after they’re born – patients might come to visit or send a picture, and some patients might want to move on and have IVF and everything stay in the past. Others really want to share that they had this struggle and overcame it, and it’s nice through social media to be able to see their families and see their babies grow up.”
Fertility treatments for some patients may only last for a few weeks or months, but the impact can last a lifetime.
“I really like to get to know patients and know their goals, and guide them through this journey and see their transformation,” Forman said. “I see couples go from really nervous and on edge to optimistic and hopeful, see them have success and sometimes come back for a second baby. They’re clearly changed by becoming parents and knowing it’s possible. Seeing the evolution and transformation is always amazing.”