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High-Profile Doctor To Be Planned Parenthood's First Medical Officer

Planned Parenthood physician, Dr. Colleen McNicholas, stands outside the clinic in St. Louis.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri has hired one of its most visible doctors as its first full-time chief medical officer.

Colleen McNicholas, who’s worked as an OB-GYN at the organization’s St. Louis clinic, started her job on July 1. As chief medical officer, she’ll oversee and coordinate medical care at Planned Parenthood clinics across the region.

Planned Parenthood clinics, including the one in St. Louis, have often hired doctors from other institutions such as Washington University for part-time medical director positions. But the time commitment involved made it clear the nonprofit needed a full-time employee, said Cathy Williams, the organization’s acting CEO.

“We felt that as we wanted to expand both our footprint here in Missouri and the offering of our services, we need somebody who’s going to be full time on the staff,” Williams said.

McNicholas also has worked as an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine, Williams said. Her experience in academia is important, as Planned Parenthood wants to step up its research on how to better reach patients, particularly in underserved areas and groups.

"Despite recognition of the health disparities in our community, we’re having very little progress improving the resources and outcomes for our most disadvantaged spaces,” McNicholas said Tuesday. She cited the state’s high maternal and infant mortality rates and lack of inclusive and specialized care for LGBTQ people.

“For me, access is the most important health care issue we must address,” she said.

McNicholas has become one of the most vocal doctors at Planned Parenthood since it sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for refusing to renew the abortion clinic’s license in May. In the lawsuit, representatives accuse the state of using the regulatory process to decrease access to abortions.

While the announcement comes during the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood has been seeking a chief medical officer for nearly three years, Williams said. But, partially because of Missouri’s strict laws governing abortion access, the position has been hard to fill, she said.

In June, Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer ruled Planned Parenthood must first take its case to the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission, which resolves disputes between citizens, organizations and state officials.

The commission had set a hearing for Aug. 1. But on Tuesday, Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi delayed it until late October. On Friday, he granted Planned Parenthood’s request that the clinic keep its license until the commission has decided the dispute.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.