Innovative Approaches to Advocating Reproductive Health at MSFC Kansas City University

My name is Rachel Steffes, MS, OMS-II at Kansas City University (KCU) College of Osteopathic Medicine and President of our MSFC Chapter.

Research and Abstract

My research focuses on Medical Abortion Trends During COVID-19 at an Independent Clinic in Detroit, Michigan. I’ve worked on this project for the last few years with my co-author, Susanna Wang, MS, MS-2, at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. We wanted to understand patient preferences towards medical or surgical abortion during the time in which Michigan was under a “Stay at Home” Executive Order. The results showed that medical abortions increased significantly compared to surgical abortion trends during this time. After the Executive Order was lifted, there was an eventual return-to-baseline. We feel like this data shows the importance of medical abortion and the potential for medical abortion’s expansion in rural or underserved communities. After the verdict in the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, we feel like our research has become even more relevant: as access to care decreases, there will be the potential for increased use of medical terminations. We will be presenting this research on a national scale at the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOOG) 90th Annual Conference in San Diego this spring.

Getting Started in Abortion Care

Prior to medical school, I worked at an abortion clinic in Detroit for several years as a medical assistant and counselor. I had a profound sense of impact on the community I was serving, and upon leaving my job, I wanted to feel still connected to the community. Abortion research makes the topic more mainstream, and I feel like this creates a space for open discussion. Because of this piece, I am now involved in two more research projects focusing on abortion.

Inspiration to Becoming a Doctor

I was very clumsy as a child, and repeated illnesses, lacerations, breaks, and bruises landed me in and out of the Emergency Department (ED); when my parents would be overwhelmed with emotion (rightfully so), I was met by a sense of reassurance and peace from the hospital staff. The people around me reflected my feelings of calmness and positivity, knowing what to do to make everything okay. I relished the sense of community, and the confidence and ease the doctors brought to their visitors. As an adult who learned not to be as klutzy, I shadowed over 100 hours in the same ED, learned to suture in a dermatology office, ultrasound at an abortion clinic, and volunteered at a community needle exchange to address addiction and decrease transmissible illnesses. My interest in Emergency Medicine in relation to abortion care would allow me to make an initial and immediate impact on women in crisis.

Kansas City University MSFC Chapter

Our chapter, with over 135 members, has had many amazing events this year so far, including multiple workshops (MVA on Papayas, No Scalpel Vasectomy, IUD insertion); several informative speakers; a movie night with pizza in collaboration with KCU’s Student National Medical Association (SNMA) Chapter to premiere “Aftershock,” a documentary on maternal health; and volunteering at local high schools to teach sexual health, education, and pregnancy prevention.

My favorite events have been our First Annual Sexual Health Bingo and our First Annual Reproductive Health Week. This past fall, our Sexual Health Bingo focused on raising money for Christine’s Place, a local women’s shelter. The KCU community raised $1,056, which purchased feminine and hygiene products and blankets for the shelter. Holding Bingo at a local brewery with over 80 participants, we called out terms associated with female health, STDs, abortion, and pregnancy, along with some “fun facts” to help normalize the discussion of potentially stigmatized topics.

This past February, we hosted Reproductive Health Week, a week-long event that consisted of a Pregnancy Simulation (60 participants), IUD Insertion Workshop (60 participants), C-Section Suture Clinic (70 participants), Valentine’s Day Table (with free condoms, lubricant, and candy, in addition to flowers and raffle tickets for $1), and Sexual Health Trivia. Our Valentine’s Day Table had over 200 students and staff entries into a Chocolate or a Love Box raffle. Our Trivia consisted of over 60 handwritten trivia questions; we held the event at a local restaurant/brewery and had over 70 participants in 13 teams. From the events during the week, we managed to raise $1,015 for No Shame KC, a nonprofit organization focused on ending period poverty by supplying period products to underserved communities.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing women who helped make these events happen. Sexual Health Bingo was in collaboration with KCU’s ACOOG Chapter (with support from Natalie Sipes, OMS-II) and KCU’s Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA) Chapter (with support from Elizabeth Keene, OMS-II). Reproductive Health Week was in collaboration with KCU’s Family Medicine Club (with support from Stephanie Cox, OMS-II, also a member of our MSFC Executive Board) and KCU’s ACOOG Chapter (with support from Brit Belme, OMS-II, and Priya Thakur, OMS-II). I feel honored to work alongside such supportive women when planning these events. I am thankful to be a student at KCU, and very proud to be in such a supportive and engaged medical community.

Top Row, from Left to Right: Brit Belme, Stephanie Cox, Priya Thakur; Bottom Row, from Left to Right: Elizabeth Keene, Rachel Steffes, Natalie Sipes

Starting an MSFC Chapter at Your Medical School

If you are passionate about something, go for it. Find people around you that support you, lift one another up, and have each other’s backs. Our MSFC Executive Board members had different interests within abortion care: Vice President Bina Ranjit, OMS-II, is highly passionate about advocacy, building partnerships with KCU’s Student Advocates For Equality Education (SAFEE) and SNMA Chapters, and provided weekly updates on national policies and abortion training information. Treasurer Stephanie Cox, OMS-II, intertwined abortion care in multiple medical fields, understanding the relevance of it not just in OB/GYN, but also in the Family Medicine community; she provided hands-on support in event planning and execution. Secretary Maheen Khan, OMS-II, found her passion for abortion within the importance of education, forging new connections with principals at local high schools to expand our sexual education volunteering. We would not have accomplished as much as we did without each of our unique interests and differences, and I believe that highlighting those unique perspectives within our events this past year made us successful as a team.