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December 14, 2023

FACTS Teacher Series: Elisa Yao, MD 

How a doctor’s own struggle with infertility led her to create a wholistic fertility practice

By: Mariel Padilla

Director’s Note: As part of our FACTS Teacher series, we highlight the diverse set of physicians and clinicians who contribute their time and expertise to help us educate the next generation of medical professionals via our FACTS elective. Our series continues with Dr. Elisa Yao, an integrative-medicine trained physician who also has training in FEMM, NeoFertility, and Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro). Bringing a whole person and holistic approach to fertility, she lends invaluable experience as a facilitator to our elective case study discussions. Learn more about Dr. Yao by checking out her entry in the FACTS Physician/Clinician Directory. If you are an FABM-trained medical professional or educator, please apply here to advertise your practice through the directory.

 

Dr. Elisa Yao describes her professional and personal focus on women’s health as a “very windy path.” She graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in molecular cell biology and then attended  UC Davis School of Medicine. Subsequently she completed a four-year physical medicine and rehabilitation residency at UC Davis Medical Center.

“My intention was not to practice women’s health initially,” Yao said. “But I actually had dealt with infertility for many, many years myself. I was given the diagnosis of unexplained infertility for the longest time, which was a very unsatisfactory diagnosis. And I was quite unhappy with the conventional approach to fertility care.”

Yao said she became frustrated that her reproductive endocrinologist was giving her medications without being able to answer questions about potential root causes or the role of various biomarkers, such as cervical mucus, in fertility.

“As a medical doctor myself, I decided to do some research on my own,” Yao said. “I became passionate about all things fertility-related because it affected me personally.”

Yao used functional medicine principles to investigate root causes, addressing issues on both her side and her husband’s side. Eventually, they were able to have a baby, despite being considered advanced in maternal age. They were later able to have a second child when she was in her early 40s as well.

“I feel very fortunate to have these two beautiful, healthy kids despite being older,” Yao said. “And that spawned my interest in getting trained in restorative reproductive medicine.”

“I feel very fortunate to have these two beautiful, healthy kids despite being older,” Yao said. “And that spawned my interest in getting trained in restorative reproductive medicine, starting with NaPro. As a kid, I really did not think that I would do anything close to this.”

Dr. Yao is now trained in NaPro Technology, Fertility Education and Medical Management (FEMM) and NeoFertility. In addition to expanding her own knowledge, she is happy to have the opportunity to educate the next generation of medical professionals.  Dr. Yao has been a featured speaker at our FACTS conferences and also regularly presents patient case studies as part of our FACTS Student elective.  Her sessions are always well received:

“Dr. Yao’s presentation was excellent and I appreciated her emphasis that PCOS can present atypically and that some women may not have all the signs typically associated with PCOS.”

Presently, Yao has a wholistic fertility telemedicine practice in California, where she helps couples get pregnant naturally with a comprehensive approach focused on finding and addressing the root causes of their fertility struggles. On her website, she offers tips for how to get pregnant naturally and offers a 30-minute Zoom call for California residents, where she offers insights based on lab results, promising to answer a patient’s number one question about their fertility.

“There’s frequently more than one factor involved in a couple’s fertility struggle,” Yao said. “And so my job is to find all the potential barriers and try to address them.”

Yao describes herself as being “quite a bit different from conventional fertility doctors.” She said she even took a year off from medical school to study traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture in San Francisco. Yao explained that she is interested in learning about a patient’s overall health, not just the reproductive health – an overarching theme in her life. When patients come in for consultations, Yao asks them to fill out a lengthy questionnaire that lends insight into their entire system. From there, she begins to piece together the contributing factors and identify central issues.

“I’m kind of like a detective in my practice,” Yao said. “I use what the patient tells me about their symptoms — frequently, these  are questions other  doctors don’t ask about.”

For example, she might ask if they have a sensitivity to smell, which could indicate a problem with their detox pathways. She might also ask about bloating after eating to get a sense of their gastrointestinal health. Drawing from her background in functional medicine and training in NaPro Technology, Yao combines all of these approaches in her clinical practice.

“The end result is that my patients usually find that in the process of becoming parents, they get to be healthier and have better energy, better mood, sleep better, lose the bloat, lose the excess weight they might have, and overall feel more vibrant,” Yao said.

One piece of advice that Yao gives to medical students, particularly those interested in women’s health or reproductive medicine, is to stay connected to organizations like FACTS and others who provide webinars, conferences, and the latest information about women’s health.

“Don’t simply rely on what is taught in medical school because we know that in medical school, they only teach us a tiny fraction of what we need to know about women’s health,” Yao said. “Definitely seek out more education on your own.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mariel Padilla

Mariel Padilla is a journalist working with us as editor of the FACTS blog. In her full-time job, Mariel writes about the intersection between gender, politics and policy — but she was introduced to the FACTS team by her brother, Mikey. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s probably reading, painting or playing with her nieces and nephews who live nearby.

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