Student Action Affects Clinic
The bathroom stalls in Mudd do not usually spark as much discussion as they did last fall, when female students began using the white paper taped to the walls to write about their negative experiences at Student
Health. The scrawled stories set in motion a student-organized campaign to make changes at the clinic, many of which student health is trying to implement this semester.
The main complaint of many of the students was that they did not like how they had been treated during gynecological exams. One student was upset when she was asked point-blank if she had been raped after telling the provider she had recently had a non-consensual sexual experience. “For someone who’s had an experience that they haven’t termed rape, that can be a really traumatic thing,” she said. The same student was also frustrated when the provider repeatedly advised her to use birth control pills even after she made it clear she was not interested in that form of contraception.
Another student was upset after being diagnosed with herpes at the clinic only to find out from her doctor at home that her symptoms were simply the result of a buildup of skin cells. While she admitted that her home doctor had difficulty diagnosing the problem, her chief complaint with Student Health was “that I was given a misdiagnosis with such expediency.”
After collecting over 20 stories, senior SIC counselors Nedra Lee and Laura Levin, along with sophomore Elizabeth Flinsch, went to Student Health with the matter in November. “We were concerned because women felt like they weren’t being respected or treated properly at Student Health,” Lee said.
“We were very open to what they had to say,” student health director Laura Hieronymus said. “We realized that we needed to open the lines of communication. We had an assumption that most women are comfortable with their sexual health and that’s just not the case.”
Nurse practitioner Pat Serio, who specializes in women’s health at the clinic, also said she was willing to address people’s concerns, “I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. If I have, it was definitely unintentional.”
At the beginning of this semester, Hieronymus hired first-year Emily Alexander to help set up a new program at Student Health that would address the issues brought up in November. Alexander, who volunteered at the Wellness Center last fall and has worked at Planned Parenthood for several years, has long been interested in healthcare. “I was really excited to have this opportunity,” she said.
One of the biggest changes Alexander plans to institute is the creation of sexual health advocates, students who will be trained to be present during pelvic exams. They will be able to explain to the patient what is happening during the exam and give the provider feedback afterward (Planned Parenthood has a similar program).
Alexander also wants student health to take a more active role in educating women about sexual health by sending out informative letters to anyone who makes an appointment for a pelvic exam. The letters will outline exactly what happens during a gynecological exam, and students will then have the opportunity to refuse any part of the procedure.
Since another one of students’ concerns was with how they had been asked questions about their sexual histories during clinic visits, student health plans to start giving students a form to fill out before they see the healthcare provider. The clinic will then keep these forms on record for future visits.
Student health is planning on advertising for sexual health advocates in the next few months so that they can start training in the fall. “In the meantime,” said Hironymous, “we have sat down and talked with our staff. We want people to be more comfortable in the relationship with the provider.”
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