This summer and my internship with the Reproductive Health Access Project have come to a close. At our final staff luncheon on July 25, 2012 my fellow interns and I were asked to comment on the most surprising thing we learned as part of our experience with the non-profit organization. Given the current political climate, I couldn’t help but share what I have been privately mulling over these past eight weeks.
Before joining RHAP, I believed it was an organization that focused on women’s health, largely expanding abortion access. I thought this agenda clearly made it gender-exclusive and politically left-of-center, but as a registered Democrat and women’s college graduate, that suited me well. However, the orientation and assignment that I was given on my first day quickly alerted me to the fact that RHAP’s mission is significantly broader and more inclusive than I had initially deduced. While I can speak volumes about this organization and the powerful women behind it, I will limit what “surprised me” to just three points.
First, what is exceptional about RHAP is the pervasive commitment to education and lack of bias. RHAP believes in supporting patients by educating their providers with the best evidence-based and up-to-date information on reproductive health, regardless of where the issue lies on the political spectrum. Notably, RHAP provides resources and training on abortion and contraception to physicians and advanced practice clinicians, arguably a left-wing political issue. However, one of my internship projects was to create a patient education fact sheet about natural family planning methods. Many of these methods, which include abstinence, ally with religious teachings that forbid the use of any hormonal or barrier contraception, an arguably right-wing stance. However, RHAP’s focus on evidence based medicine allows for naturally family planning to be discussed with patients in the clinic alongside all other birth control methods, thus giving patients a complete range of options.
Next, RHAP acknowledges that birth control is not just women’s work. My second assignment was to create a patient education fact sheet for patients interested in comparing different methods of permanent sterilization, including options for men. Men can share the responsibility of family planning by regularly using condoms or having an elective vasectomy. Facilitating and supporting vasectomy training allows clinicians to be more inclusive and shift the focus and burden of birth control from women to men. RHAP wants to inform and empower men about their sexual health. By educating both men and women about contraception, clinicians can help all couples make educated family planning choices together.
Lastly, RHAP’s staff, clinicians, fellows, and interns make an effort to constantly educate themselves about health disparities. By doing so, they ensure that resources are better dispersed and important target populations aren’t missed. This summer I became part of the journal club held in a clinic affiliated with RHAP and observed clinicians using health disparities research to create new protocols and intervention strategies.
As I type this on my last day, I’m happily surprised by my experience interning for RHAP. I feel grateful and privileged to have worked in such an impactful organization and aim to carry their mission forward in my future career.
-Mia Mattioli, 2012 summer intern/Pennysylvania State University Medical Student