“I wish someone had told me this earlier”
This month the Centre of Research Excellence in Health in Preconception and Pregnancy (CRE HiPP) hears from Monash University’s Dr Ruth Walker as she provides an update on her project Preconception Health: Starting the Conversation Early.
Dr Walker is a recipient of the inaugural Early- and Mid-Career Researcher (EMCR) Small Grants Scheme, announced in August 2021.
As a dietitian and Chief Investigator for this project, Dr Ruth Walker intends to improve sexual and reproductive health education for young people aged 12-18.
“As a clinician and researcher, I have heard many young women say, ‘I wish someone told me this earlier’ in relation to preconception health,” she said.
She aims to respond to this information gap, as past experiences in maternal health and healthy lifestyle promotion have indicated the value of understanding health and wellbeing from a young age, regardless of pregnancy intentions.
In light of this, Dr Walker engaged with a national sample of teachers to hear their perspectives on school-based sexual and reproductive health education in 2020.
The findings show that teachers agree on the necessity of reproductive health education, but barriers to curriculum delivery undermine the students’ access to engaging and consistent sexual and reproductive health knowledge.
“A significant barrier is that the Australian Curriculum covers sexual and reproductive health from Foundation to year ten, but Year 11 and 12 students often miss out,” she said.
In response to these findings, Dr Walker has worked with health professionals and members of the Monash University Faculty of Education to overcome boundaries and form new and improved pathways for school-based sexual and reproductive health education.
She is also prioritising the opinions and expectations of young people, as the project’s target population.
“I have really enjoyed hearing young people’s perspectives.”
“They have been really insightful and have great ideas of how to improve school-based sexual and reproductive health education.”
Currently, Dr Walker is writing up the results from her interviews with health professionals, which she plans to have published by the end of 2021.
Alongside this, data is being collected from young people aged 16-21 through a state-based online survey and workshops.
She plans to combine her results with the online survey and workshop data to form a mixed-methods study for publication.
“The overall aim is to co-design a sexual and reproductive health curriculum specifically targeted to year 11 and 12 students.
“I plan to continue to combine my expertise as a schoolteacher, dietitian, and researcher to improve young people’s health and wellbeing.
“This is so that all young people graduate from secondary school with the knowledge and confidence to protect their sexual and reproductive health, and overall health and wellbeing.”
Associate Professor Jacqui Boyle, Chief Investigator of CRE HiPP from Monash University is working with Dr Walker on this project.Back