Danielle Johnson, as a second year medical student, decided one evening to attend a guest lecture on birth control methods. It was optional, it was poorly attended, it was basic, and yet it immediately made her question the quality of health education that the United States was administering.
During this session, this soon-to-be OBGYN had her first encounter with an intrauterine device (IUD). Up until this point, she had not heard of IUDs, even though they are safe, effective, and have become the most popular form of birth control in a majority of other countries.
Somehow within her years of high school and collegiate education- her health education experiences had failed to provide her with the vital contraceptive knowledge that is necessary for STI and teen pregnancy prevention. Now as a second year OB/GYN resident at Palmetto Health Richland, Johnson has slowly realized that she wasn’t the only student left confused and unprotected from our state’s lack of comprehensive and medically accurate health education programs.
South Carolina still ranks 12th in the nation in teen birth rate, and lands in the top 10 states for rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia and AIDS. Johnson has had the opportunity to work with a younger demographic, and understands how these rates ultimately stem from a lack of reproductive knowledge within her patients.
“It amazes me what people don’t understand about contraception and failure rates. From that lack of knowledge then stems a huge misunderstanding regarding how birth control will work inside their bodies. I additionally get surprised reactions when I talk about STIs…patients don’t always get how transmission works and how they could have caught something,” said Johnson.
Johnson also estimates that around 90% of her patients come in with misconceptions about their reproductive systems. Even basic concepts like ovulation and physical anatomy become misunderstood when health education programs withhold full information.
Sex education has become a puzzle with missing pieces. Students are only getting part of the picture. With so much misinformation, Johnson typically has to assume that patients won’t know exactly what she’s talking about when it comes to reproductive functions. She firmly believes that comprehensive and medically accurate health education programs could directly impact this problem.
“With just birth control, if people understand the methods that are available to them and how they work and their failure rates, I think that would make a huge impact on our younger population. Comprehensive health education could impact teen birth rates by providing this knowledge, and could also help correct STI rates and a lot of the misinformation that people are finding online and hearing from friends,” said Johnson.
Johnson understands that information is ultimately the key to keeping these younger patients safe. People need to also understand what symptoms aren’t right and when they need to seek care. Often times, patients aren’t fully informed on what reproductive issues signal emergency situations.
Through her daily life, there has never been a single moment that’s alerted Johnson that “enough is enough.” For her, the daily routine and her patients signal “aha” moments every time she enters the office. Because for Johnson, the desperate need for comprehensive health education programs has never been unclear. Perhaps what is most unclear- is why we have never opted for change.