Learning in Lockdown: Adapting a Reproductive Health Campaign for Pandemic Life
Although COVID-19 paused our original plans, we were ultimately able to reach more people than we ever could have via in-person presentations alone.
Inspired to Serve
Sexual health education continues to be a sensitive subject for many people in the United States. As a result, curriculum standards remain ambiguous nationwide. In our first semester at the Washington State University (WSU) College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, we learned about the indications, mechanisms of action, and adverse effects of medications used for reproductive health. Unfortunately, for many students the information was completely new.
While talking after class one day, the 3 of us discovered that we shared a passion for education about sexual health and were eager to learn more about the topic as prospective pharmacists. Our interest increased when the Washington State Legislature passed Senate Bill 5395 requiring all public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education beginning in 2022, with the aim of standardizing such education statewide. This decision was very controversial in many areas of the state.
As members of WSU’s chapter of the Washington State Pharmacy Association (WSPA), we decided in early 2020 to establish the Pharmacists for Reproductive Education and Sexual Health (PhRESH) subcommittee to tackle misinformation about reproductive and sexual health. The program had been created by friends of ours at the University of Washington, who helped us adapt it to the needs of Spokane residents. The goal of PhRESH was to promote safe, accessible, and accurate information so that individuals could make informed decisions about what is best for them and their reproductive and sexual health.
During the past 2 years, our subcommittee has given presentations primarily on emergency contraception and how to access it. According to peer and community feedback, this information was of great interest. However, all topics pertaining to reproductive health are of interest to the subcommittee, and we are always looking for ways to expand our outreach.
Adapting to a New Way of Life
After piloting our first poster presentation in February 2020, we presented at Spokane community colleges for the remainder of the semester. Unfortunately, in-person events were canceled because of COVID-19. Although this was disheartening, we were still excited about our presentations and worked to adapt them to a virtual setting.
During the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters, we revamped and reformatted our poster into a PowerPoint presentation, which allowed us to add far more information. We kept the presentations engaging by using trivia games and encouraging questions from and discussion among participants.
Using Zoom, we were able to reach audiences at universities and sororities throughout Eastern Washington. One of our largest presentations, which drew more than 300 attendees, was given at a sorority. Because it was informative and interactive, the presentation counted toward the educational credit required for the Panhellenic Educational Programming, which was excellent advertising for the event.
We also created a video for our Facebook followers. Fellow pharmacy student Kellyan Nguyen helped us share it with organizations like the YWCA and Planned Parenthood, including its Raíz program for the Latino community, and we were able to do so because Jolyslene Robles Mendoza and Karina Méndez, also fellow students, translated everything into Spanish. The video explained how to access emergency and long-term contraceptives and where to find follow-up care depending on city of residence. Although COVID-19 paused our original plans, we were ultimately able to reach more people than we ever could have via in-person presentations alone.
A New Initiative
Because we wanted to know how useful our efforts had been, we developed surveys for participants to take before and after the presentations about navigating insurance, co-pay coupons, and other financial resources. At most retail pharmacies, a single emergency contraceptive tablet costs between $30 and $50, which is quite expensive for college students on a budget. Many attendees from the WSU Pullman campus reported that the cost of OTC emergency contraceptives constituted a financial barrier for them, so we started a fundraiser on the WSU crowdfunding platform CougStarter to raise money for a contraception drive. Thanks to the generosity of alumni, students, and faculty, we collected $1265 for emergency contraceptives and educational pamphlets for Pullman students. We were also able to purchase generic emergency contraceptives at a discounted price through an advocacy group.
To further defray the cost, we hosted our first emergency contraceptive drive on August 17, 2021, with the money raised through CougStarter.
In less than 3 hours during Welcome Week, we distributed more than 140 complimentary emergency contraceptives with a retail value of over $400. The packages were in small gift bags that also included candy as well as pamphlets in English and Spanish about resources at Pullman. Many students were surprised and thankful for the free “Plan B.”
Reflecting on Our Impact
During the 10 presentations we gave over the past 2 years, we collected survey data from 515 participants to assess their confidence about being able to choose an appropriate emergency contraceptive, access financial resources, and find a place to buy these contraceptives. The results appear in the online table.
With the help of our project advisor, Jennifer Miller, PharmD, we were able to investigate our impact and discovered a statistically significant increase in self-reported knowledge and confidence across all presentations (Table).
To share this project and its positive impact on our community, we presented a poster during the annual meeting of the Washington State Pharmacy Association on October 29, 2021. Pharmacists, student pharmacists, and technicians who saw it were very interested in helping to make contraceptives more accessible at their own practice and schools.
When we looked at statistics from Washington State, we found that Yakima County has one of the highest percentages of unintended pregnancies, especially amongst the Hispanic population.1 Ideally, we would like to get more student pharmacists involved with PhRESH and host a second emergency contraception drive at WSU’s Yakima campus. By collaborating with fellow students there and using the Spanish-language resources created by Jolyslene and Karina, we hope to extend our reach and continue to dismantle barriers to reproductive care in Washington.
Brook Kotlarz, Kaitlan Belocura, and Kennedy Erickson are third-year student pharmacists at Washington State University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
1. Washington State Department of Health. Unintended pregnancy. Revised October, 19, 2016 Accessed February 10, 2022. https://doh.wa.gov/sites/default/files/legacy/Docu- ments/1500//MCH-UP2016-DU.pdf