It's not surprising to learn that throughout her life, Dr. Diana Bitner has garnered an incredible number of lessons. But of them all, a select few serve as a compass, guiding her passion for helping women live happy and healthy lives.
Adopted at birth by a family in Grand Haven, Dr. Bitner's upbringing was relatively normal. However, as a teenager, the family unit she'd known until that point became dismantled. Thankfully, in what would end up being a profoundly life-changing event, Dr. Bitner found herself taken in by a family she babysat for (Kathy and JB Gilleland), who remain her family to this day.
Upon seeing her potential, Kathy and JB would ask Dr. Bitner questions, affording her the space and time to process and realize for herself how she felt about something. Dr. Bitner recalled the buildup to earning enough money to study as a rotary exchange student in Brazil her sophomore year and its massive influence on the rest of her life.
"I was 15 and responsible for getting $1,000 in my bank account. It was two or three days before my trip and I only had $960," Dr. Bitner said, wrongly assuming at the time that her father would simply give her the $40 she needed. "I cleaned houses, I babysat, I did yard work ... I returned a new pair of jeans and shoes I'd just gotten the day before."
In the nick of time, Dr. Bitner earned enough money for her trip, understanding how to take responsibility for herself in the process.
"I learned that I can't just wait for somebody else to do things for me—I have to do it myself," she said. This lesson is one that permeated through her education and continues to be present in her career today.
Inspired by the books centered on fictional WWII nurse Cherry Ames, Dr. Bitner knew from age 10 that she wanted to become a doctor. With tips and strategies for success from father JB (a physician himself), Dr. Bitner dug in. Upon attending Central Michigan University and graduating as valedictorian, she went on to receive her medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Butterworth Hospital.
In the years following, Dr. Bitner's career soared and she became proficient in the delivery of babies and procedures like hysterectomies. However, she eventually became motivated to narrow her focus after noticing a gap in care between what women need and what they receive with traditional medical care. Women would come to Dr. Bitner with questions about their sexual health and aging, drawing her toward a path that would allow her to comfort women in stressful situations and provide them with knowledge that they had options.
"I went to my first women's health meeting in 2003 and was blown away about how much we actually know about menopause and midlife, but it simply wasn't part of our education," she said. "Once I knew, I couldn't unknow all this knowledge—other women deserve to know, too."
Dedicated to becoming an expert, Dr. Bitner got to work. She joined the North American Menopause Society, was named the 2015 Menopause Practitioner of the Year, trained with the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health, gave lectures and created a number of resources for women, including: The Sex Deck; the peer-reviewed Menopause Transition Scale; a nationally acclaimed book, I Want to Age Like That – Healthy Aging Through Midlife and Menopause; and much more.
It all clicked.
Since that meeting 20 years ago, the vision for a concierge practice dedicated to supporting women of any age with primary care, weight management, sexual health concerns, menopause care and more persisted in Dr. Bitner's mind. Today, as Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of "true. Women's Health," Dr. Bitner and her colleagues have brought that vision to life. After lots of "nos" and hurdles, "true." was established in June 2020 alongside co-founder and CEO Allyn Lebster, and now serves thousands of women in West Michigan in a truly personalized and innovative way.
"It was the scariest thing I'd ever done, besides getting divorced," Dr. Bitner said of taking the leap. "But doing this work has never been about me—it's been about women feeling safe. And I want to support women in living their truth, whatever that looks like."
The same way in which Dr. Bitner felt seen in her youth by people like Kathy and JB, her fourth-grade teacher and grade school librarian, is now how she in return sees her patients, offering them a place where they feel heard, acknowledged and understood. Dr. Bitner views "true." as a culmination of everything she's worked toward over the course of her life and hopes the practice lives on long after she eventually retires.
But for now, it's all about connecting women with the quality care they need.
"We're figuring out how we can reach more women with the team we have right now," Dr. Bitner explained, noting the possibility of potentially franchising "true." in the future. "How do we help other doctors and guide them into innovation in the same way? Because women deserve this kind of care—now."
From Dr. John MacKeigan and Dr. Domenic Federico to her loving fiancé Steve and intuitive Aunt Norma, Dr. Bitner is thankful for the wisdom bestowed upon her from her many professional mentors and personal supporters. She feels most like herself when she's connecting directly with patients, cooking and sharing quality time with her children (Megan, Pixie and Owen) and Steve's, relaxing on the water and cranking music during a stationary spin bike session. You may even catch her speeding (and sometimes drifting) by in a F3 race car.
Reflecting on her journey thus far, Dr. Bitner offers a reminder for others working toward their own goals:
"Getting to do what you want takes time, effort, vision and little steps that add up over time. Examine how you feel. Identify what's hard and name your barriers. Learn from the 'nos.' Trust your gut and always remember to do what's right."
REMEMBER: October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Dr. Bitner reminds women to know their risk factors, including those related to lifestyle such as limiting alcohol consumption, leading an active lifestyle and incorporating fresh produce into your diet.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov issue of West Michigan Woman.
Photo Courtesy of Kelly Braman Photography.