In case you were wondering, that is a uterus, those are fallopian tubes, and the little puffy things sticking out on the sides are ovaries. Obviously, the female reproductive system looks nothing like this. But to a room full of teenagers who learned about their bodies from the uncomfortable gym teacher in a classroom with 40 other students, you could imagine the confusion. This confusion was the fuel for the all girls sexual health group I started at a local high school. As medical students, we rotated in the school based health clinic for a day or so. My interactions with these teens who were lacking knowledge and my baseline interest in reproductive health and health education inspired me to come up with a solution. So I got my hands dirty, surveyed the students about what topics they wanted to learn about, created a health curriculum, set up meetings at the high school and medical school, implemented the program, and then analyzed the results to determine ways to improve the program. The picture above is from our anatomy lesson, before we dug into the nitty gritty about body parts, and as you can tell, there was a lot to learn.
Believe or not, I understood the plight of those students. In fact, my own gym teacher in high school was so uncomfortable with teaching us about STD's, that he often mispronounced chlamydia and would refer to genitals as "down there". Luckily, I learned all out STD's and body parts in middle school from Mr. O.
Mr. O played no games, he ensured that any child that went through his health class knew everything about their bodies. Occasionally there would be in a knuckle head who would want to be immature and joke around but Mr.O never let that stop him. "Your head is like a brick" he would always lecture them. And when the boys would throw love taps at the girls, he would joke "Boy, put your hormones in the freezer!" We all appreciated his honesty, we appreciated his realness, and we appreciated his desire to arm us with the information we needed to make informed choices. He would have us re-enact ovulation by have us line up and create the fallopian tube, and one special person would be chosen to be the egg. We were young urban minority youth, and he never sugar coated anything for us, because he knew the stakes were high. He may not know it but he was the catalyst that sparked everything. My interest in reproductive health, leading to my involvement in Sex, Etc teen magazine and website (www.sexetc.org) in high school, my involvement in teaching girls groups in college, my decision to pursue medicine and start my own girls group in medical school, and ultimately my decision to become a pediatrician and practice adolescent medicine.
And this came full circle when I met up with Gladyne and AJ to catch up and found out that the girls group I started was still going strong and had even expanded to include a parallel boys group. Despite having worked almost 15 hours that day and being exhausted, I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear with gratification that the program that started out as jotted down ideas on a scrap piece of paper was still going strong. I used to run the girls group all by myself and as it grew, we were able to include several other health educators and expand to other schools in the building. And to hear the news that were successfully able to expand the program to the boys and that the program continues to expand makes me hopeful for the future of the program. And my goal is to expand the program, or the model of the program to other places.
And to add the cherry and sprinkles on top, I had my first day at the Adolescent Health Center this week and it was everything I could ever dream of. I talked with my patients about birth control, I gave them emergency contraception, scheduled them for IUD placements, I spoke with them about domestic violence, about HIV testing, about stressors at home and school, about the things that matter. I was in my element and finally found my home. And to think, it all started with Mr. O.