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Rice needs to improve awareness of preventive gynecological care

Photo courtesy Nafisa Azizi

By Nafisa Azizi     4/18/23 10:04pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors. 

Almost one year ago, the news that Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court shocked all of us. The ruling ended a 50-year precedent that federally guaranteed the right to abortion care, allowing the state of Texas to criminalize abortion. Fortunately, Rice administration and student leaders quickly responded to the Texas abortion ban by raising awareness about safe sex, increasing access to contraceptives and more. These efforts are undoubtedly critical to the wellbeing of our campus, but there is another key area of reproductive health for those with a uterus that has gone unaddressed. 

As a sociology student interested in gynecology, I have been conducting an independent study project through SOCI 403 that has revealed a troubling lack of knowledge at Rice concerning preventive gynecological care – a collection of diagnostic tests, check ups and counseling that support health outcomes for people with a uterus. Based on my discoveries, I believe Rice administration should enhance available resource centers to help students more easily understand and navigate the process to access PGC.

I was inspired to study this topic due to the lack of PGC my peers and I received. Their doctors and families told them they did not have to visit gynecologists or receive pap smears at ages recommended by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology because they were not sexually active. Others had no clue how to independently access a gynecologist since they lacked familial support to see one. This mirrored the experiences that I had growing up as a teen in NYC with extreme period pain, where even with the city’s expansive medical resources, I would be denied or delayed from accessing PGC that could explore reasons behind my pain. 

However, seeking PGC should not just apply to those with physical health issues or those seeking contraceptives – it can be informative. As such, I wanted to explore Rice students’ understanding of PGC and bring awareness to PGC through my research so that more students could access the valuable services from this medical field.

Although at first, I was interested in only surveying rural students at Rice; after being met with minimal responses, I broadened my sample size. In doing so, I realized that the lack of knowledge surrounding PGC is not unique to any one group on campus. When asked through my survey “What age were you told by a medical provider you need to get your first pap smear?”, two thirds of respondents stated that they were never told this information by a medical provider, regardless of community background or ethnic group. Although the sample size from my questionnaire was small, they reflect findings in other studies that also indicate that PGC is not widely accessed by adolescents.

What struck me the most, though, were the responses from my long-form interviews. When asked the question about pap smear age, Interviewee 1, Lola*, thought it was 18 because that is when their insurance coverage for that medical service started. Interviewee 2, Cara*, only knew the correct age, 21, from watching an infomercial at home. Lola reported coming from a privileged suburban background, while Cara reported coming from a more disadvantaged rural background. Despite these differences, both echoed similar concerns about insurance and medical literacy barriers in accessing PGC.

Given the clear issues my study uncovered concerning PGC knowledge at Rice, I believe that there are clear actions the Rice administration could take to help alleviate these issues. One improvement would be placing informative materials on how to access PGC in the Texas Medical Center based on different insurance types in resource centers at Rice, such as Wellbeing, the Rice Women’s Resource Center and Student Health Services. Moreover, an insurance navigation seminar could be included at the end of Orientation Week that could help any first year student with a health-related problem. Finally, panels on what PGC is and its offerings could take place at Rice so that more students have the information they need to seek care for themselves. The above suggestions were informed by responses to my study, and as I continue to interview more students and physicians, I hope to craft a more comprehensive solution to this pressing issue. Through such solutions and my future research, I believe Rice students will be more informed about reproductive health matters and be more proactive when it comes to accessing PGC. 

*Any names mentioned are pseudonyms for anonymous participants of this study.

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