August 4, 2021
Stephanie Howard Creates a Curriculum for Young Women
May 14, 2018
By Abby Boshart
Navigating the teenage years in general and sexual health in particular can be difficult for teens, parents and teachers. Families may feel uncomfortable discussing such sensitive topics, while schools may be bound by certain curriculum requirements. Stephanie Howard, PA-C, understands that these conversations can be tough and has created a solution to make sure that teenage girls are getting this critically important education.
“I think a comprehensive approach to sexual education and general health is beneficial and allows young women to make well educated and informed decisions about their bodies,” says Howard.
Working as a PA specializing in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) at Tennessee Gyn in Knoxville, Tennessee, Howard has gotten the chance to work with women of all ages. Through these conversations, she learned that there is wide variation in ways teenagers get sexual education and in what they learn.
“I quickly realized there is a large gap of missing information for adolescents in regards to their body and health,” says Howard. “Lots of parents rely on the school system to educate their child about their changing body and also sex education.”
With some schools lacking a formal sex-ed program and others offering abstinence-only education, teenagers are not learning everything that Howard believes they should. She says while an abstinence curriculum is important, it can often leave out significant topics regarding sexual health.
Concerned about misinformation and these gaps in education, Howard set out to create a curriculum to fill them. In the fall of 2017, Howard began producing Comprehensive Teenage Female Health Education, a four-video series designed to provide 7-12 grade girls with information that they might not get from their parents or teachers.
“It is a way for these young women to get accurate information from a reliable source and be able to ask questions without feeling embarrassed or judged,” says Howard.
For $25, young girls and their parents can gain access to the Comprehensive Education Series. With over three hours of informational videos, the series covers male and female anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception, consent and relationships and commonly asked questions. Howard even gives the girls her personal contact information so that they can email or FaceTime her with any questions they might have.
In the eight short months since Howard first launched her program, she has already had success. Dozens of girls have taken the course and are better prepared to navigate their teenage years, which has their parents breathing a sigh of relief.
“Stephanie wants our daughters to be empowered with the right information and make good decisions based on their values, to be safe and know the consequences of these important decisions,” said Linda Kirby, whose daughter Alex recently completed the course.
As the educational series has become successful, Howard has started expanding her program. She currently offers a video for girls in 5th or 6th grade and another for those heading off to college. She plans to continue to create new content and possibly create a similar education series for teenage boys.
Howard has also started Facebook and Instagram pages to promote her videos and connect with the community. In addition to posting about sexual health, Howard includes tips on general health and wellness she thinks will be relevant for the girls.
“I think it’s important that these young girls are well rounded in their health,” says Howard. “I try to talk about topics that are important to them or things that they will face throughout their teenage years and young adulthood.”
The pages also feature pictures of Howard and her family and updates about her everyday life. Recently, she posted about a family vacation and the struggle of getting back into her daily routine.
“I want them to see that I am human and I also want to come across as accessible,” says Howard. “I am not face-to-face with them on social media as I would be in the office, so I try to let them see my personality.”
She has built a strong community on Facebook where she is able to provide more information for teenagers and their parents, but she has tapped into a different audience on Instagram. Her account has allowed her to connect with the PA community, which she says has come as a surprise. PAs, PA students and even prospective PAs all engage with Howard and routinely send her messages thanking her for her content. In addition to posts about her professional and personal life, she creates weekly quizzes about clinical topics, which have been really popular with her newfound community.
“Starting my Instagram page has been a great opportunity to connect with other healthcare providers and also give back to the healthcare community,” says Howard.
For Howard, creating the education series and these online communities has been a culmination of years of experience in women’s health and a lifetime belief that knowledge is power.
“When informed, these young women understand that certain decisions come with risks and have consequences,” says Howard. “When these young women are educated appropriately, they are more confident in their decisions and actions.”
At AAPA 2020, PAs will have the opportunity to choose from more than 100 different CME sessions including HIV Prevention and PrEP, Sexual Transmitted Infections, and Latest Trends in Contraception. Certain sessions will also be available online through Learning Central for CME credit after conference.
Abby Boshart is AAPA’s communications coordinator. Contact her at [email protected]