ORLANDO | While the world strives to go green, millions of women are still polluting their bodies with contraceptive chemicals. Catholic medical students at the University of Central Florida (UCF) hope to change that with education and awareness.
The Catholic Medical Association’s student chapter at UCF began with three medical students just three years ago. Kaitlyn Hite, Jais Emmanuel and Michael Mankbadi would gather to support each other in the faith. After participating in Mass at Nemours Children Hospital, a mutual friend connected them to the Catholic Medical Association Orlando Guild.
Enter Dr. Peter Morrow, who was president that year. The introduction was a God moment. Morrow and friend, Dr. Patrick Hunter, had both been praying for the opportunity to establish a student guild at the university. In fact, the entire CMA Orlando guild was praying. About the same time, Dr. Colleen Moran-Banos, a professor at UCF medical school, also reached out to Morrow.
“We wanted to have an organization where students who are in the Catholic faith, could grow together in that faith and in medicine,” said Emmanuel. “Four years of medical school is rigorous training. To be in tune with God’s calling, and our vocation, to work and learn from other students of Catholic faith” was important. “We wanted to grow together through prayer, worship, Mass, and of course through mentorship from the local doctors who are active in their faith and give back to the community.”
Hite added, “Right now we’re living in a society that likes to separate our morals and values from our professional roles, and discourages conversations with others about those values. Especially in medicine, where you’re constantly interfacing with people of all faith backgrounds, I felt it was important for us to have an outlet to feel comfortable to live our faith within our profession.”
More than a dozen students are now involved. “They have done an awesome job of bringing in speakers and putting on programs to evangelize,” said Dr. Morrow. There is in-depth discussion and learning on topics like NFP and conscience protection. Dr. Morrow explained, “We take it for granted that we have the freedom to practice according to our faith and principals. Conscience tells us there are things we can and cannot do. Sometimes, governmental rules and regulations are in conflict with what our conscience tells us and we have to have the ability to say no.”
Holy Redeemer parishioner Dr. Pearl Huang-Ramirez loves sharing her thoughts on faith and medicine with these UCF medical students. She works with Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS), which promulgates information about advances in fertility awareness based methods and Fem-Tech or female technology. The point is to empower both women and doctors, informing them about the scientific progress made in understanding menstrual cycles and using various natural methods to diagnose and treat certain medical issues. It includes ways to work with fertility, without upsetting the body’s delicate balance.
“I truly believe (NFP) is the healthiest option for couples from both a spiritual and medical perspective,” said Huang-Ramirez. “As a woman in medicine, it always angered me that fertility awareness methods were never mentioned or if at all, only referred to as the outdated ‘rhythm’ method.” Becoming Catholic in college, she said she was amazed that, even as a medical student, she had not heard about how effective and healthy natural family planning is. “I then committed to getting trained in it to help spread the word.”
According to Hite, who recently graduated from UCF, “The rhythm method is an antiquated method of fertility tracking. Unfortunately, most people associate it with natural family planning.” In reality, NFP has come a long way. The rhythm method determined days of fertility and suggested abstinence on those days, unless trying to conceive. She emphasized, “The fertility awareness based methods use science-based evidence and approaches to tracking and controlling a woman’s fertility.” These include cervical mucous and urinary hormone monitoring along with temperature tracking. It is far more specific.
As part of the UCF student chapter, Hite and several fellow students found their courses on the endocrine system and women’s fertility to be behind the times. As a fourth-year student, Hite took an online elective course titled ‘Facts about Fertility.’ She was surprised what she learned about NFP. Her core courses on endocrine reproduction never mentioned natural options. Hite said, “the contraceptive and fertility counseling was all centered on chemical means to prevent pregnancy” and surgical interventions like in vitro. “No one suggested tracking a female cycle or how that could be helpful or informational in any way.”
Huang-Ramirez further explained many people do not know the potential abortifacient effects of hormonal contraception. She said barrier and other chemical methods usually work in three ways: trying to prevent ovulation; drying up cervical mucus necessary for sperm to travel to fertilize an ovum, and thinning of the lining of the womb. “For us, as Catholic Christians who believe that life begins at conception, if ovulation does by chance occur, conception can still occur, but the fetus cannot implant in the thin lining of the womb, thus causing a chemical abortion.”
The doctor also firmly believes NFP benefits the marriage. She and her husband, José, teach the NFP portion of pre-cana classes in the Diocese of Orlando. She said, “Couples who use natural methods communicate better, which is always a plus in marriage as shown by the lower divorce rate.” José said in their marriage, “It has opened a different area of communication and appreciation of each other. NFP creates an atmosphere of greater dialogue and understanding of each other’s body. It also promotes development of other ways of intimacy and closeness.” He noted, “I choose to practice NFP because it allows me to love my wife fully and completely while living out our Catholic faith… it has brought us closer to each other and also kept the Lord very much center of our marriage, from the smallest thing to the greatest, which is bringing new life into the world.”
The guild is making great strides in education and hopes the information will be added to the curriculum. Dr. Moran-Banos said they are working on it, but it may take some time. Yet Hite sees it is a benefit that faculty found the conversations worth repeating by inviting more speakers back each year. “That should be a positive,” said Hite. Of the 60 students attending, “There were several students who had many questions and are of no faith background, who had interest in women’s health and obstetrics,” Hite said. “They were kind of frustrated they were never introduced to that information.”
Hite, who is currently completing her graduate work in women’s health at Harrison Medical Center in Washington, said being a part of the CMA’s UCF guild “truly shaped how I’m going to continue practicing medicine for the rest of my career, especially concerning contraceptive counseling, women’s health and fertility.”
Friend and future doctor, Emmanuel, echoed those sentiments. She is studying pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio and said the Catholic Medical Association taught her the beauty of the human soul. “I am more aware that I am not treating just the body,” she said. “I am treating the whole aspect of the human, including their soul. It makes me mindful of that. When I treat children, I want these children to become saints.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic July 25, 2019