Inaugural Reproductive Health Leadership Program concludes with kit assembly event
On April 25, over 30 students gathered in a classroom in Girard Innovation Hall to fill bags and boxes full of reproductive health essential items for two local organizations.
The students are part of the inaugural Reproductive Health Leadership Program. This yearlong program is organized in partnership with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to educate the interprofessional class on the science and social impacts of reproductive health care.
The program was started by Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Director Jennifer Gunderman-King, M.P.H., with help from Trisha Mason, M.A., director of Service Learning within the Westbrook College of Health Professions.
Gunderman-King said they started the program because she was hearing from students that they wanted a more in-depth education into maternal and reproductive health, since their own curricula often didn’t have time to do a deep dive on the topics. Additionally, she thought this would be a productive way to put UNE’s mission of improving access to rural health care into action.
“The purpose was to empower students to be compassionate professionals and increase access to reproductive health care,” Gunderman-King said.
After forming the program, Gunderman-King said they had over 138 applicants for 30 spots in the course. She said they knew they wanted the program to be interprofessional because, especially in rural areas, all health professionals play a role in all aspects of health care.
Claire Dudek (M.S.P.A., ’24) said the interprofessional aspect was key to dynamic learning.
“It was interesting to have those discussions, because different professions would think about the problem at hand from a different point of view,” Dudek said.
Additionally, Dudek said she appreciated the opportunity to have a comprehensive understanding of reproductive health care outside of clinical care.
“To be able to take the time to sit and have these more long-winded discussions around the different caveats and the different struggles that people face in New England that Planned Parenthood sees on a day-to-day basis was a really interesting perspective to have and definitely something that I will be able to apply to future patients,” she remarked.
The class partnered with two organizations in the Portland area that had a need for reproductive health supplies. Mason said that the service-learning aspect allowed students to put their learning into practice.
“The service component of it was an exciting element to give students an opportunity for leadership and engagement to really get at grassroots real time,” Mason said. “[They learned] what the needs in the community are, how to address those needs, and how to fulfill those needs, and the seminars that they attended gave them extra tools to be able to do that really successfully.”
The students were split into two groups, one focused on supplying kits full of menstrual pads and the other focused on creating abortion care kits, including pads, water, snacks, thermometers, and comfort items. The abortion care group collaborated with the undergraduate art class of Sarah Gorham, M.F.A., M.A.T., professor of arts, to make cards that went in each kit that had words of encouragement from the students to the abortion care patients.
Gunderman-King said she has a lot of pride in the students and the program.
“I feel like we've now got a group of students who have increased knowledge, they have increased attitude, and they have some increased skill,” she remarked, noting that the program will continue next year.