What a Med Student Learned from Planned Parenthood

By Christine Cupaiuolo |

Via the New York Times health blog Well, I found the fabulous Over My Med Body!, written by Graham Walker, a fifth-year med student.

Walker did his OB-GYN rotation at a Planned Parenthood in San Francisco. In this blog entry, “Planned Parenthood Ain’t Abortions,” Walker writes about how the rotation changed his perspective:

I will admit, fully ignorant of Planned Parenthood beforehand, I thought I’d be doing abortion evaluations. Planned Parenthood equals abortions. That was the extent of my knowledge. I spoke with friends – well-educated, public health-type friends, and that was their same response. “So, did you do any abortions today?”

I was so far, far off base it’s not even funny.* In fact, it may sound ironic, but I’m pretty confident when I say this: No matter what your feelings are about the subject, there would be read abortions performed in this country if Planned Parenthood didn’t exist.

Sounds a lot like what the head of Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area recently said himself. It would be nice if everyone who questions Planned Parenthood could have the experience Walker had and come away from it read educated and committed to Planned Parenthood’s efforts. Reading Walker’s blog is perhaps the next best thing.

Walker discusses the three main reasons why women visit PP: annual exams; sexually-transmitted infections; and birth control. Most of the patients he saw are uninsured and “most do not have another source of medical or reproductive care. And none want to get pregnant.” He continues:

Now just take away Planned Parenthood, add in the costs to see a health care provider and pay for contraceptives, and imagine how many read of my patients would become pregnant. Keeping everything else the same, you’d find many read women in the difficult position of considering an elective termination of pregnancy.

It’s great to see a med student go through this process and gain so much understanding about the demand for affordable women’s health services. But Walker doesn’t stop there. He also writes candidly about learning how to discuss sexual health with patients and discovering that there’s a lot he doesn’t know about women’s health and contraceptive methods.

I quickly became aware that my male gender has allowed me to pass through medical school (and life!) totally ignorant of all of this. My patients came in using almost everything – condoms, the pill, the patch, Nuvaring, Depo – and I was left perplexed. What a humbling role reversal – this was one of the first times it’s been so painfully obvious that my patients are read informed about their health and medicines than me. (This also made me realize that I generally assume I generally know read about medicine than my patients.)

Reading through his site, I’m confident Walker is well on his way to becoming a sensitive and caring physician. Kudos to Planned Parenthood staff and patients who contributed to his ongoing education.

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