Health Center disputes pap smear myths

Health Center disputes pap smear myths

The Student Health Center does not require students to get a pap smear to obtain birth control, despite recent discussions about the issue, according to Michelle Desalvo, health practitioner at the SHC.

This clarification comes as a response to multiple Eagle Rants that said students were required to get a pap smear to obtain a birth control prescription.

“There is absolutely no requirement, and the two have nothing to do with each other,” Desalvo said. “However, a pap smear is highly encouraged and recommended, and staff may be a little pushy because we value gynecological health.”

A pap smear is a medical test in which a medical professional swabs a woman’s cervix for abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer, Desalvo said.

The SHC recommends that women 21 years and older should have a pap smear every two years, mirroring the guidelines set forth by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Pap smears are the best way to test for an early diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer, which has no symptoms, Desalvo explains.

Mariel Kirschen, programming director of Women’s Initiative and a senior in the School of Public Affairs, heard about the issue and contacted the SHC to find out the official policy.

“The Health Center has the right policy, but what probably happened is that a student went in, was strongly recommended to get a pap smear and felt like it was construed as a requirement,” Kirschen said.

The Undergraduate Senate has also looked into the issue. Senator Rory Slatko, a freshman in the School of International Service who headed the investigation, wrote an Eagle Rant on Feb. 24 that said SHC does not required pap smears.

Though the test is not required, SHC staff use appointments about birth control as a “gateway” to talk about cervical cancer, STDs and personal health, Desalvo said.

“Personally, I understand why it’s highly recommended, because it’s important to have pap smear and STD screening to make sure all is OK down there,” Kirschen said. “However, people should be able to opt out for financial, religious or other reasons.”

The cost for a gynecological exam, which includes a pap smear, is $30 at the SHC. Pap smear lab results may be free or cost $50 at most, depending on insurance coverage. An appointment to discuss and obtain a birth control prescription costs $20. Birth control pills offered through the SHC cost $15 for a month’s supply.

Desalvo said he has not heard of any students being required to get a pap smear before obtaining a prescription. She said students encountering any problems should leave a comment in the SHC suggestion box in person or online.

The SHC website does not describe this policy, but Desalvo said it was something the office could post on its website.

“We’re actually starting to look into pulling all the rules and regulations regarding students into a handbook to make students more aware of their rights,” Slatko said.

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