“We must do more to keep teens healthy.

And that begins with better instruction for those who care for adolescents and improving teens' access to comprehensive reproductive health care.”

Michelle Staples-Horne, MD, MPH

Teen Reproductive Health

As physicians, we believe that all people–regardless of their age–should have the knowledge, equal access to quality services, and freedom to make their own reproductive health care decisions.

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Dr. Lonna Gordon: Happy Mother’s Day to Young Mothers Everywhere

Dr. Lonna GordonLonna Gordon, MD, PharmD, is a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City. She is a Leadership Training Academy fellow.

It is a bright spring day and I am headed to meet a friend at the park. A woman passing me on the street smiles at me and says, “Happy Mother’s Day!” I am not a mother, but after many Mother’s Days, as a “true adult” I have learned it is just easier to smile and offer a polite “Thank You” to well-wishers. Moreover, as a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine I am a caretaker of hundreds of children, so perhaps I exude motherly qualities.

Later that week I see one of my patients, a young mother whom I will call Shannon, in my exam room and ask her how her Mother’s Day was.

“Ok,” she replies.

“Just ok?” I prod. “Did you do anything special?  Have a nice meal?  Get flowers or a card?”

“No,” she says with a sigh, “It was just another day.”

I change the subject, and soon we are discussing how to potty train her son and prepare him for the new baby expected in a few months. I check in on how many semesters she has left at the local community college and tell Shannon how proud I am that she is pursuing her educational goals. However, as I move through the rest of my day I can’t help but feel sad for her. How terrible it must feel as a mother to have no one acknowledge your hard work and accomplishments, especially on Mother’s Day!

In my practice at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City, I work every day with a multidisciplinary team to provide vital, comprehensive adolescent health care that emphasizes confidentiality and support for whatever happens in our patients’ lives. We empower young people to make responsible choices concerning their reproductive health. While access to comprehensive sex education and contraception are absolutely important, this is only one part of the solution. When those approaches fail and one of my patients becomes pregnant, I support her no matter what she decides. If she makes the deeply personal choice to become a parent, I support her.

So while I provide the full range of contraceptive care, I also care for teenage parents and their children and I support them in their efforts to be excellent parents and raise healthy kids. At the Center, I am able to provide these services free of charge, and without judgment.

Our culture frequently sends the message to young parents that they are irresponsible and a burden to society. We tell them they are too young to parent, won’t be able to do it well, and that their lives and dreams are over when they have a child.  We marginalize and stigmatize them.

But what would happen if instead we—doctors, teachers, social workers, society—gave them support? We know that when young people are healthy in mind and body, they can make it in this world. What if we taught them good parenting skills? What if we encouraged their educational goals and dreams? What if we ensured they had secure housing, reliable child-care and nutritious food? What if we equipped them with the knowledge and resources for planning their next pregnancy?

Young mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want. They want to do a good job. They work at balancing parenting with their many other personal responsibilities. They want their kids to be happy, healthy, and successful. They need to feel supported as they do their best in such a meaningful role.

As a doctor, I am in a privileged position. I get to see tangible results of what young mothers achieve when they are supported. They are happy and well adjusted. They finish high school. They go to college. They get jobs. Their kids are healthy and meet their developmental milestones. They learn how to co-parent with their child’s father or other extended family members.

A year has passed and Shannon is the mother of two and just three months away from finishing her associate’s degree. My hope for her this Mother’s Day is that she experiences a holiday where she is celebrated and validated. So to Shannon, and all the young moms reading this who may feel forgotten or undervalued: I believe in you and I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!

Crossposted on Feministing 

Announcing the Newest Edition of Our Adolescent Health Curriculum

ARSHEPThe fifth edition of the Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Education Program (ARSHEP) curriculum is now available! ARSHEP is our nationwide educational initiative aimed at teaching physicians more about adolescent reproductive and sexual health. In 2014 alone, members of the 45-person ARSHEP faculty delivered nearly 100 interactive lectures and workshops to over 10,000 health care professionals across the country.

The latest curriculum consists of 20 modules—including three all-new topics—that offer comprehensive, evidence-based information about adolescent reproductive and sexual health care. Topics include long-acting reversible contraception; STI testing and treatment; caring for pregnant and parenting adolescents; pregnancy options counseling; caring for LGBTQ adolescents; emergency contraception; and physicians as advocates for adolescent reproductive health.

The ARSHEP curriculum is available free of charge: Order the entire curriculum on a flash drive, which includes PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and standardized patient videos. Simply email meded@prh.org today. Or, you can download individual modules from our website.

If you are a health care professional who works with adolescents or educates other clinicians, we hope you’ll find the fifth edition of the ARSHEP curriculum a tremendous resource. 

LARC Awareness Week: For Teens, a Smart Birth Control Option

Kathleen Morrell MDLARC Awareness Week is November 16–22, 2014. Our Reproductive Health Advocacy Fellow Dr. Kathleen Morrell discusses why long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) are a great option for teens.

Over the summer, two sisters who were heading off to college came to my clinic. These two bright, talented, and determined young women were determined to get as much as they could out of the next four years. And they’re counting on their athletic scholarships for their college careers. They don’t want unintended pregnancy to stand in the way of their dreams. This is why they both requested intrauterine devices (IUDs) that day.

I see a lot of young women in my office for the same reason. Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), like IUDs and the implant, are a great option for teens who don’t want to worry about pregnancy. LARCs are the most effective reversible birth control methods we have, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology have noted, they are appropriate for teens.

IUDs are the most popular method of birth control used by family planning practitioners, which speaks to their safety and efficacy. Most women are excellent IUD candidates, regardless of age or whether they’ve had children or not. And depending on what IUD option they choose, they don’t need to worry about birth control for three, five, or ten years.

Despite all this, there is still a great deal of misinformation out there about IUDs in particular. Sometimes a patient will say that she’s interested in getting an IUD but that a friend told her that they were dangerous, or that she heard only women who have had kids can use them. I always explain what I know to be true: IUDs are safe and effective and appropriate for women of all ages.

The implant (Nexplanon®) is also popular with my younger patients. In one large contraceptive study, over 40% of those under 18 chose the implant. Smaller than a matchstick, it is discreet and hidden under the skin of the inner arm. It is an easy two-minute insertion that feels like getting a shot and doesn’t require a pelvic exam. It has the lowest failure rate of any form of contraception — 0.05% — and works for three years.

I want all my teen patients to leave my office with the birth control method that is right for them, which is why we discuss all the options available. If you are a health care practitioner looking to learn more about LARC and teens, here are some great resources:

Fall 2014 Newsletter: Physicians on the Ground and in the Classroom

2015 LTA DCcrop In our Fall 2014 Newsletter, we discuss ballot initiative results, welcome Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Education Program (ARSHEP) faculty members, and celebrate our Leadership Training Academy. Read more >>