This week we’re delighted to be able to share our conversation with the hugely driven force of nature that is Dr Harper. Founder of The Harper Clinic, an innovative private menopause clinic in London, Dr Harper will be familiar to many of you in our community. We love her directness, open-minded approach and genuine desire to help women from all communities navigate the menopause well. We hope you enjoy hearing her reflections on life, work and menopause as much as we did.
With love, the MPowder Team.
First, tell us a little bit about The Harper Clinic. What motivated you to start your business?
I’m a natural leader, some might say bossy! - and I’ve always been driven. I started as a GP because I was a single mum. However there was something missing for me working within the NHS.
‘I felt constrained, a square peg in a round whole, and I couldn’t give my patients the time that they wanted or deserved. ‘
Women’s midlife health was often neglected and I saw the same women coming back again and again with symptoms which you could never get to the bottom of because of time constraints. They were being passed from pillar to post. I wanted to be that doctor who gave them trusted joined-up care, who listened and empowered them again.
In my personal life I’d seen my mother decline rapidly after the menopause. She went from being a bright feisty woman to became panicky anxious and now has dementia. I do believe her condition today was accelerated following the menopause.
Being a single woman myself I wasn’t prepared to fall off the cliff of ageing, I couldn’t! I still had a lot of life to live and give and I didn’t understand why you had to trade off being healthy with looking good. I compare it to Porsche - a top of the range engine, but also a great body that is stylish and sexy on the outside. That is what I want my women to have access to. I want to give my women not only what they want but what they need to arm themselves into this next stage. This was definitely missing from the NHS - but that whole person, holistic view was missing in the private sector too.
So that was my vision for the Harper clinic - medical care, time to talk, access to someone who listened, understood and didn’t judge and enabled you to look and feel your best. Coming to the Harper clinic is not just a medical experience it’s a medical life coaching experience.
Why me? I’ve learnt having worked in addiction clinics, hours of motivational interviewing for weight management, functional medicine training, 2 years in psychiatry and the years and experience of being a GP. The Harper Clinic lets me combine everything to give the best offering to my women. Life’s journey has had a lot of twists and turns. I have my own demons to contend with - with weight, relationships, mother and daughter angst, bereavement and loss. So, not only am I a doctor but I understand what it is to be a woman at this point in life.
We know you focus on reaching women as the enter peri-menopause. In your experience, what are the most typical struggles they arrive at your clinic facing?
I like to focus on early intervention. And with women entering the peri-menopause, typically its not the hot flushes that get them, its the lack of sleep, which leads to irritability and the anxiety. Brain fog…struggling with memory are both major tipping points. These women are looking after their families, maintaining their careers and the tipping point comes when they feel they can’t continue. They’re feeling they are just about keeping the head above water. The things that drive them to me are things that might not seem so obvious too. Hair loss. A loss of libido. But the most common thing I hear is that they don’t feel like themselves - that they’ve lost the buzz of life. What is also true with so many of the women I see is that they often don’t realise how bad they’ve been feeling every day until they start to feel the positive changes. They forget how good they can feel.
Right now, talking to you during lockdown, women who have addressed their menopause symptoms are coping so much better than those that haven’t. To those women who are concerned about spending the money on themselves, I say - this is an investment in you and your future. The NHS can only give so much time and GP’s are not experts in everything.
How has your own menopause transition influenced your outlook towards work and life?
I do believe my own peri-menopause was accelerated after the loss of my Father. It’s difficult to sometimes disentangle the tiredness of bereavement from hormonal fatigue. I’ve always had really bad PMS so for me it’s not been easy. In amongst all that I’ve had a relationship breakdown, but also started a new business and a new relationship on my own terms.
Today I feel more confident as a woman, to say what I want. I feel I’m finally me. I’m no longer controlled by negative relationships or a restrictive work environment. I feel strong, sexy and positive. Of course, I’m still anxious at times - and this is something that has stayed with me on my menopause journey. But, as I tell my women, there has to be an element of acceptance in what you become.
How do you define success for your business and yourself individually?
Success for me is helping as many women as possible. I want to deliver good quality seamless care with numerous Harper clinics around the country and world.
During lockdown I’ve had to change and adapt and I’ve loved the digitalisation of my business (Ed’s note: since this interview, The Harper Clinic has opened its bricks and mortar premises again too). It lets me reach more women - with online consultations, electronic prescriptions and soon I’ll be offering home blood kits , hormonal testing, well-women testing and well-couple testing too.
I’m a great believer in preventative health and taking a proactive approach. I want to expand into offering women the right products for their skin/hair along with the supplements that they need. Often I will try things myself before I suggest them to my patients. To that end, I have a vaginal laser machine Femilift , which helps with vaginal rejuvenation, tightening, dryness and for urinary incontinence which I’ve tried and now have in my clinic as a service.
Has your definition of success changed over time as an entrepreneur and individual?
Growing up I don’t think I knew what an entrepreneur was! But I know I always felt different - I was a black sheep, never quite fitting in. I seemed to have ideas and get from A to Z faster than most which infuriated some people! - so during life I made the conscious decision to stay quiet in meetings, to wait for others to speak first…it went against the grain because my natural instinct is to find a solution! I am inpatient and often can’t figure why others can’t see or get it. Now I know that there’s nothing wrong in being this way. And - as for success, I’m not there yet! And I’m not sure I’ll ever feel it - I’m always hungry to do more!
What correlation, if any, do you see between age and ambition?
I think when you’re younger you have less to lose so taking a risk is easier.
I’ve always been ambitious but had to put a lid on it because women are taught put themselves secondary to being a wife, mother etc.
As a single mum I had bills, a mortgage and a daughter to look after so I couldn’t take a risk. But now she’s at university and, as she said, “it’s my time to shine”.
What are your aspirations for your business over the next 24 months?
I simply want to see more women coming through the door.
What do you wish your younger self had known about life, love, work & health?
Well, I’m a bit of a romantic (probably from the Bollywood movies we all used to watch with my mother and her friends!) - but I wish I could have used my head a bit more, lived life more.
My advice would be ‘Don’t over-think or worry about what other people will say. Being a woman is a positive and so is being different; you don’t have to fit in. Re Work: go for it, believe in yourself, be confident. On health, I think I’ve done ok there! Finally - spend some money on yourself!
What would be your key advice to women transitioning through menopause today? What practical steps could they take to better support their bodies and minds? And what has worked / is working for you?
Start early in managing your health. Now’s the time to rebalance and reset, look at diet, exercise…Make changes - so stop smoking, reduce your alcohol intake, manage your weight, look after your pelvic floor and put practices into place that calm you. It’s important to choose what you like - it could be knitting, mindfulness meditation or just a HIIT burst (not all of us are yogis in the making!). Also know that looking after your skin and hair and wanting to age positively does not make you vain. It makes you human.