Meet Kirby Intern Brittany Chambers

Meet Kirby Intern Brittany Chambers

June 24, 2014 – Brittany Chambers, MPH, one of ETR’s Kirby Summer Interns for 2014, brings with her a powerful combination of personal experience, educational achievement and commitment to the field. Our researchers are looking forward to working with her over the next few months.

Brittany met recently with Newsletter Editor Marcia Quackenbush to talk about her background, her vision and what she hopes to accomplish both in her internship this summer, and in her professional career. Here’s a report on their conversation.

Brittany Chambers has a longstanding interest in public health education and adolescent health, inspired by some of her own experiences as a teen. She obtained her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and completed her Master’s in Public Health at California State University, Fresno. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Health Education at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

How did you become interested in public health education?

“My own experiences as a teen helped fuel what became my passion for work in sexual and reproductive health. I grew up in Oakland, California, and I was a teen mom. I had my daughter when I was 15.

“When I’d go for prenatal care, the first question the providers would ask was, ‘How old are you?’ Then they would ask a range of questions about my living situation, my family, and other very personal things that really weren’t related to my prenatal health care. Their questions and tone came across as quite judgmental. It was clear they didn’t approve of my pregnancy, my choices, my family or my behaviors. I found this annoying and off-putting.

“It made me wonder about other teens who needed sexual and reproductive health care or services. Maybe they wanted condoms, or thought they might have an STD or be pregnant. Did they avoid seeking services because they didn’t trust they’d be understood or respected?

“I knew that health care was important for me and my peers. I decided then that I wanted to figure out how to make it easier for teens to get appropriate, non-judgmental sexual and reproductive health services.”

How did you go about learning more about teens’ sexual and reproductive health (SRH)?

“As part of my undergraduate work at UC Berkeley, I did a lot of work with community organizations, which helped me learn about women’s experiences around health, especially those of teens and young women.

“For example, I worked at a drop-in center for homeless women where we offered participants two hot meals a day, along with a range of other services. Making the space safe and comfortable for the women was a top priority. The only men you’d ever see at the site were doing repairs or maintenance. We handed out safer sex kits with condoms, lube and instructions, and we always added something sweet—a piece of chocolate or some other treat. The women could also get hygiene items such as soap or shampoo. We offered activities to draw the women in, such as a group on creative writing.

“I also worked at the medical school at University of California, San Francisco, doing intakes for a clinical trial for a probiotic therapy for bacterial vaginosis.

“In both of these settings, I mostly worked with women of color. I found out how important it was to offer services in a way that made sense in the context of these women’s lives. Was the program convenient for them? Did we provide something they found of value? Were they already concerned about sexual and reproductive health issues, or was this something we needed to build awareness about? How could we earn their trust?

“Understanding structural issues—the reality of the women’s lives, the resources available to them, whether they were interested in the issues we felt were important—was essential to our success.”

When did you become interested in the research side of health education and promotion?

“When I went to Fresno State to get my MPH, I worked with the Central Valley Health Policy Institute and the Tulare Community Health Clinic. I was on an evaluation team looking at the implementation of ETR’s evidence-based SRH curriculum, Reducing the Risk. We just published our first article on that evaluation this year!

“Our population was different from the other groups who’d been evaluated with this curriculum. The students were predominantly Latino teens living in Tulare County, which has the highest teen pregnancy and birth rate in California. The community has many inland rural areas. So it was important to see how this proven curriculum worked with this particular set of students.

“And we had some positive outcomes. We found an increase in knowledge about HIV/STD and pregnancy prevention, and a delay in initiation of sex. That entire process of working on the evaluation was both exciting and informative for me. It helped me understand how powerful this kind of research can be.”

Tell me about the work you’re doing now at UNC.

“I’ve just completed my first year of doctoral studies at UNC Greensboro. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with several faculty members addressing sexual and reproductive health issues.

“I revised a tailored reproductive life planning workbook under the leadership of Dr. Paige Hall Smith. We conducted two focus groups with 24 women to evaluate this instrument’s effectiveness in encouraging women to talk with their doctors about reproductive health issues. I’ll be disseminating data from this project at the upcoming American Public Health Association Conference in November.

“I’ve also been involved with manuscript writing with Dr. Amanda Tanner and Dr.  Dr. Jennifer Toller Erausquin on work investigating the role of stigma in linkage and engagement in care for HIV-positive persons, and care-seeking behaviors among sex workers in India.

“For my dissertation, I plan to look at the effects of stigma on teen moms. I’d like to develop a framework that helps us explore how teen parenting intersects with teens’ plans for the future, including both their sexual and reproductive health plans and their broader aspirations in life.

“There is a lack of quantitative studies that examine issues of teen parenting through the lens of teen mothers themselves. What do these young women feel? What are their hopes and dreams? How does this pregnancy fit into what they want from their lives?

“Most of the research money out there is focused on pregnancy prevention. The projects that involve teen moms are mostly trying to establish ways to prevent second pregnancies during the teen years. I’m hoping we’ll see more support for research that explores the issues that teen moms themselves identify as essential.”

And what will you be doing during your Kirby Internship with ETR?

“I’ve been in love with the work ETR is doing since I met Karin Coyle (ETR Senior Research Associate) at a 2013 conference on teen pregnancy prevention. We talked about evidence-based interventions, and the work I was doing with Reducing the Risk, and how to adapt proven programs for different populations.

“I’m very excited to be here now, actually working on some of the programs Karin and I discussed. I’ll be helping out with the Blended Reducing the Risk project (a flipped-classroom approach that uses online formats for presentation of content and classroom time for skills practice). I’ll be reviewing the content and also writing a literature review that summarizes the research on blended learning.

“I’ll also help with the preparation of ETR’s About Us curriculum, which focuses on supporting safer relationships among adolescents. These projects will give me greater understanding about how to put evidence to work to support the causes I care about most.”

And those causes are…?

“Supporting teen moms has really been my passion through all of this. I see them being labeled and judged. They’re ‘welfare moms’ or ‘victims of poverty,’ they’re ‘exploited’ or ‘not mature enough to make these kinds of decisions.’

“This stigma isn’t helpful. I’ll tell you right now, I personally have no judgment about teens who make an informed choice to carry a pregnancy to term. I leave open the possibility that sometimes that might be a good choice for a teen. The issue is really unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.

“My goal is to give teens the skills and information they need to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health—not just during adolescence, but over their entire lives. I want to be sure people have the interventions they need to define their own healthy sexual relationships. I feel that the work I’ll be doing with ETR is going to move me along that path. I’m looking forward to a very rewarding summer!”

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