Prehealth Advising Offers New IAP Course on Endometriosis

Julia Mongo, Staff Writer, GECD

In January, the Prehealth Advising Office at GECD offered a new one-week, non-credit course: Exploring Public Health through the Lens of Endometriosis. Endometriosis is a serious gynecologic disease that affects one in 10 women, many of whom endure years of painful symptoms before being properly diagnosed and treated. The course attracted 35 participants, including students and members of the broader MIT community, who had the opportunity to learn about this often misunderstood condition.

The course began with a screening of the documentary film Endo What?, which gave an overview of the health issues posed by endometriosis and the many challenges faced by women who have this disease. On the second day, there was a lecture on public health disciplines and the analysis of endometriosis from epidemiological, health policy, social science, environmental health, and biostatistics perspectives.

Dr. Malcolm Mackenzie, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, presented on the third day about surgical methods for treating endometriosis and his approach to interviewing patients. A panel of adolescent and adult patients with endometriosis detailed their first-person experiences on the fourth day, and the week culminated with a presentation by a representative from the patient advocacy organization Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA). Course participants then had the opportunity to engage in public service work by traveling to Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School and using the EFA’s “Endo EduKit” to educate health science students.

The IAP course was the brainchild of Aleshia Carlsen-Bryan, senior assistant director of Prehealth Advising. “I thought this course would be a great way to raise awareness about endometriosis and educate future physicians about the disease, as well as public health methodology,” says Carlsen-Bryan. “The responses from the class members, several of whom themselves are contending with this frustrating condition, were overwhelmingly positive. Our IAP participants felt empowered, and finished the course committed to becoming strong advocates for women’s health.”

“This course provided me with invaluable information about endometriosis,” says Alissandra Hillis ’18. “Though I came into the course feeling rather knowledgeable on the topic, the doctors, patients, and other speakers disproved many common endometriosis myths and completely changed my perspective. I am more inspired than ever to raise awareness about this disease and, hopefully, prompt others to do the same!” Chen Shen, whose husband is a graduate student at MIT, observed, “After volunteering at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, I felt it is so urgent to have endometriosis (Endo) education and advocacy in China. Chinese teenagers who have Endo may suffer even more than girls in the U.S. because of stereotypes and lack of public health education. Only Endo fellows [such as myself] know that the pain is unbearable. If I could have had the Endo EduKit when I had my first period 20 years ago, my life would have been different.” 

 “Our Prehealth team was very pleased with the response to this course and hope to offer future IAP courses on health topics,” notes Carlsen-Bryan. “This course provided a way to analyze and understand how disease affects people on many levels, from the biomedical to sociological, and the role that physicians, policy makers, and patient advocates can have in making positive change.”