INTERVIEW: Curriculum Reform at Texas A&M University

At Texas A&M University, Ella Nonni, a third-year medical student, Elaine Avshman, a second-year medical student, Akshaya Santhanaraj, a second-year medical student, Uma Reddy, a first-year medical student, Kadambari Suri, a first-year medical student, Diana McKinnon, a fourth-year medical student, Divya Gupta, a second-year medical student developed a reproductive health elective that gives medical students an opportunity to understand and discuss abortion care, family planning, and reproductive health.

Read the syllabus and this interview to learn how they developed this course, and tips to help MSFC Members initiate similar successful projects.

How did creating an elective in family planning/abortion care get started?

The idea started to form when the state of Texas started its restrictive abortion practices. There was a realization that Texas medical students would be seeing less (to no) family planning and abortion care on clerkship. So, there was an emphasis on trying to get exposure to this material and knowledge in the pre-clerkship space.  We then surveyed the student body and found there was an interest out there in reproductive health topics.

What were some challenges you faced in this process and how did you overcome them?

We held several meetings with Deans and faculty course directors. Some were enthusiastic about this concept and others held concerns.  The truth is – it is unfortunately nerve racking to present some of these topics in such a polarized environment and knowledge about medicine and medical procedures has been politicized. When we faced some pushback, we respectfully explained our goals, stuck to the data, showed how larger well-known organizations (ex ACOG) held up these topics as essential to medical students’ knowledge base, and never shut a door.  We welcomed and held space for the concerns, and went back time and again to reengage on the topic.

What could this elective mean for medical students?

This elective is an opportunity for our medical students to learn more about family planning, reproductive health, ethical decision making – it is meant to be informative but also give students a space to talk about “taboo” topics and get some evidence-based understanding of abortion care/family planning/reproductive justice.

What would your advice be to students who are interested in introducing a similar course at their medical school?

A good place to start is a general student body survey – showing there is interest is powerful to decision makers. Create a well-designed outline of what you want to create, ask for feedback, welcome concerns, and stay respectful and thoughtful that people’s concerns and fears are legitimate.  Just because something is scary or hard doesn’t mean it is not worth doing.

MSFC believes that abortion and family planning training should be a standard part of all medical school curricula. Visit our Curriculum Reform webpage to learn more about how chapters have successfully advocated for the inclusion of abortion and reproductive health education into their curricula, and to find resources to support your chapter’s work.