Patients visiting Dr. Monica C. Martin’s midtown Manhattan gynecology practice are just as likely to see a set of acupuncture needles in the exam room as they are an ultrasound machine. Martin has been incorporating this traditional Chinese medical treatment since the late 1990s and says it’s been a godsend for patients suffering from painful conditions such as endometriosis.
“Sometimes with traditional medicine there’s nothing more you can really do,” says Martin, a physician with more than 25 years of experience in gynecology and obstetrics. “There is a point where traditional medicine stops and acupuncture can begin to help.”
In addition to mitigating pain, Martin uses acupuncture to foster relaxation, boost the immune system and reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Her patients, many who are of African-American or Caribbean heritage, are often skeptical of the idea of acupuncture at first. “I have to coax them,” Martin says. “I show them what the needle looks like, that it’s not the same as the needle that draws blood.” After a reassuring explanation and a trial with just a couple of needles, many are ready to embrace the treatment.
Martin has sought out specialized training in Eastern medicine to ensure her patients are receiving expert care. She’s a certified acupuncturist in New York State and a member of the American College of Acupuncture for Physicians and Dentists. She bolstered these credentials by gaining hands-on experience working in a medical clinic in Central China. Those in Martin’s care also have the opportunity to explore the healing power of Chinese herbs, teas and vitamins, which are also available in her office.
Combining Eastern and Western medicine supports Martin’s efforts to treat the entire patient, not just her reproductive health issues. It’s a philosophy she wishes more physicians would embrace. She says many specialists don’t think about how their treatments may impact other aspects of a patient’s health. For example, when a doctor prescribes antibiotics to treat a sore throat, a female patient can become more susceptible to a yeast infection. “We need to be more cognizant of the fact that it’s the whole body we’re dealing with,” says Martin.
Martin’s passion for medicine was sparked as a young girl growing up in Jamaica. She often accompanied her mother, Mary Martin, to the doctor. At the age of nine, she witnessed her mother’s experience with surgery and recovery. Concerned about her mother’s wellbeing, Martin vowed to become a doctor to take care of her mother and to help others.
After graduating from high school, Martin enrolled in medical school at the University of the West Indies. A trip to Delaware with a family friend opened her eyes to career possibilities in the United States. She transferred to Howard University, in Washington, D.C., to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry before going on to complete a medical degree at Brooklyn’s SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Following a four-year residency with Columbia University and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, Martin spent about a year in the OB/GYN service at Harlem Hospital before opening her own office in Hempstead, New York.
Since then Martin expanded her practice to include offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn. She made a name for herself as an expert in managing high-risk pregnancies and shared her medical knowledge on her own radio show on WLIB. In recent years, she’s scaled back her practice to focus solely on gynecology and maintains just the Manhattan office—a transition prompted by the need for more time to care for her ailing mother.
Martin doesn’t regret the decision to ramp down. She says she wouldn’t be the doctor she is today without the encouragement of her mother, who passed away in 2013. The elder Martin instilled in her daughter the importance of never giving up, advice Martin has drawn upon throughout her medical career, especially as a physician who began incorporating Eastern medicine into her work before it was fully embraced by the mainstream. “My mother used to tell me ‘You have to go for what you feel in your heart is the right thing for you and just do it well,’” says Martin.