Nursing Students for Sexual and Reproductive Health
Though they attended nursing schools across the country from each other, Erika Staub and Jacqui Quetal were brought together over a shared frustration regarding their respective programs. In their efforts to provide a complete and accurate health education, both schools lacked comprehensive reproductive health education and abortion care training in their curriculums. As nurses are often the primary source of health care for much of the population, Erika and Jacqui saw an immediate need for change in the conventional nursing curriculums, as well as greater advocacy for nursing students and their unique role in the health care system.
Primary Health Care Providers
There are currently 3.1 million registered nurses and over 250,000 nurse practitioners working in the United States today . With each seeing at least five patients a day, Nursing Students for Sexual and Reproductive Health (NSSRH – formerly known as Nursing Students for Choice) (NSFC) co-founder Jacqui Quetal estimates that nurses care for over 13 million women each day. Due to this enormous impact on women and their families, NSSRH feels that nurses have a responsibility to their patients to offer honest and informed health care— an important component being reproductive health and abortion services. Unfortunately, they are unable to offer this kind of care if they do not learn it in their nursing school programs. “Patients come in and ask us questions relating to their sexual health. If the nurse doesn’t know the answer and they lie, or guess, that affects that woman, maybe forever if she gets pregnant.” Jacqui laments. “Patients expect us to know the answer. Or at least say ‘I’m not sure. Let me go find out.’” As nursing programs increasingly concentrate on primary and geriatric care, combined with reduced funding for women’s and sexual health care, nurses in the field are less able to provide comprehensive care to their patients. 
In order to address this gap in nursing education, NSSRH was founded in 2007 and a network of support and activism began to grow. In just five short years, the all-volunteer staff found itself overwhelmed by positive responses and a rising demand for their resources and knowledge. Currently boasting 17 chapters across 15 states, NSSRH is dedicated to advocating for and supporting nurses as frontline health care practitioners, community health educators and patient advocates in the realm of reproductive health and justice.
To assist them as they grow, in 2012 the Argosy Foundation provided NSSRH with a $50,000 grant to enable the hiring of their first-ever full time staff member and program director, Karmann Peters. Having a program director has proved vital, enabling NSSRH to provide better support to and foster increased communication with campus chapters across the country, as well as expand outreach efforts that will build and sustain NSSRH over time. Since bringing in a full-time program director, NSSRH has been able to increase their work with allies and supporters, send more nursing students to reproductive justice and abortion care conferences and trainings, and create new campus chapters.
Based on laws and regulations that differ by state, each campus chapter develops different goals depending on where they are located and the needs of each program. For example, Jacqui points to the Kentucky chapter where the registered nursing (RN) students are focusing on simply getting contraception and basic reproductive health included in the classroom, while the chapter at Yale is pushing for faculty to teach them abortion procedures. “The student chapters guide themselves to the topics that are really important to their constituents,” she says. Success also means different things for each chapter. Sometimes it means getting faculty to dedicate three hours of their lecture to contraception versus the three minutes they did before. Other times, students have created their own courses, such as the University of California-San Francisco chapter that offered an elective course, “Family Planning and Reproductive Choice,” that brought in approximately 60 students every week, showing faculty the strong interest there was in receiving this type of education.
The First-Ever NSSRH Activist Summit
Since their initial days, the majority of NSSRH’s yearly budget has gone towards funding nursing students’ attendance at medical conferences around the country. Over the years, NSSRH has been able to send a total of 250 students to various meetings including the Medical Students for Choice, National Abortion Federation, and Civil Liberties and Public Policy conferences as well as more recently the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, and Planned Parenthood Family Planning conferences. While these events are informative and empowering, NSSRH has long wanted to offer nursing-specific information to their members— and with the first-ever NSSRH Activist Summit happening in October 2013, they will be doing just that. According to Jacqui, they’re hoping to get two student representatives from each NSSRH chapter to come together in one place to get nursing-specific information as well as share stories and offer support to one another in a non-judgmental space. Thanks to their partnership with Argosy, NSSRH’s program director will be, among her other efforts, dedicating her time to helping make this dream a reality. The entire team at NSSRH is thrilled about this event that Jacqui says has been a long time coming.
As NSSRH moves toward realizing their goals, the organization knows there is a considerable amount of exciting work ahead and now that they have their program director in place, they feel ready to take it on. Citing her experience in reproductive justice activism and community organizing, Jacqui says Karmann’s role has been immeasurable. “We have felt so much more streamlined and organized and have increased our capacity to do the work that we’ve been wanting to do for such a long time because Karmann is there. It’s so helpful to have someone who can get everything in one place, be really knowledgeable about what we do, and help encourage the students to do more than they think they’re able to.” As they advance into the next phase of their work, Jacqui says they’d like to increase and improve their outreach efforts to nursing students, especially in areas of the country where access to reproductive health care is limited, as well as grow their staff and board.
For the past eleven years in a row, nursing has held the number one position on the Honesty and Ethics Gallup Poll as the most trusted profession . NSSRH wants to ensure that nurses are able to honor this trust by offering their patients accurate and comprehensive care that includes reproductive health and family planning services. By receiving funding from the Argosy Foundation, they are able to continue to empower nursing students and advocate for curriculum change in order to provide the best possible health care to the public. Celebrating its strong network of nursing students and other health care providers, NSSRH is creating a new generation of reproductive health and abortion provider nurses, propelling them to the frontlines of the reproductive justice movement.
For more information on NSSRH, please visit: http://www.nssrh.org
1) American Nurses Association, http://nursingworld.org/Content/NNW-Archive/NationalNursesWeek/MediaKit/NursingbytheNumbers.pdf