Atsuko Koyama, MD, MPH

Reaching Out to Teens

The recent wave of parental notification and consent initiatives, along with the government’s billion-dollar investment in abstinence-only programs, is blocking access to reproductive healthcare for the population that may need it most of all: teenagers.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that teenagers’ lives are at stake here,” says Atsuko Koyama, MD, MPH, a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) who is in her final year of residency in pediatrics at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. “If we don’t give them more opportunities to access services, and to talk to doctors—alone—we’re going to lose a lot of teenagers.”

A member of Medical Students for Choice and longtime advocate for adolescent health, as a college student, Dr. Koyama volunteered at her local YWCA working with pregnant teenagers. “It became clear to me that being able to provide full reproductive health services to adolescents would be an integral part of my practice,” she says. Dr. Koyama was drawn to Jacobi because it makes abortion training readily available to pediatrics residents. “It is unusual for a pediatrician to provide abortion services,” she says. “None of my friends going into pediatrics even tried to get training, but I think it should be part of our education.”

Dr. Koyama joined PRCH because it provides busy doctors with the opportunity to be vocal advocates for comprehensive reproductive healthcare. “It is very empowering to be part of group of physicians who talk to the media and who go to D.C. to influence legislation,” she says. “And it is motivating to be around other doctors who are in the fight, and who haven’t given up. For me, a young resident, it is wonderful to have role models and to know that I can continue with my activism throughout my career.”

For Dr. Koyama, advocating for young people is a key part of that activism. “Adolescents come into my office looking for real answers,” she says. “It infuriates me that our government says, ‘We are only teaching abstinence,’ and then, ‘You need to get permission to get services.’ People who have no place in a doctor’s office are walking in and legislating how I provide services and how I practice.”

After finishing up her residency, Dr. Koyama plans to go overseas for a year to build her clinical skills and to work with women in developing countries. Then she will return to the United States to undertake a three-year fellowship working with adolescents. “My ideal dream job is to work part time in an adolescent clinic, part time in public policy and part time providing abortions,” says Dr. Koyama.

“It’s important that we normalize abortion services as part of healthcare,” she says. “We’re not some fringe group, and the more we realize that, the easier it will be for our patients to receive full reproductive healthcare.”