A new interdisciplinary course about abortion care is being offered to Dalhousie University health students this year for the first time.
Martha Paynter, who's leading the course, said abortion care has changed a great deal in the Maritimes in recent years and the new course is meant to prepare future nurses, doctors and social workers.
Nurse practitioners can now prescribe medical abortions through Mifegymiso, the brand name for the combination of two pills used to terminate early pregnancies.
"With the opening up of access, it creates opportunities for opening up our learning," Paynter, a PhD candidate in nursing and the founder of Women's Wellness Within, told CBC's Information Morning this week.
The course is offered through Dalhousie's interprofessional health education program and is open to all health profession students.
It's a mini-course, which means it lasts between six and nine hours, and allows students from different professions to work together.
Students will learn about the history of abortion care in Canada, from the opening of Dr. Henry Morgentaler's first clinic in Montreal in 1969 to the introduction of surgical and medical abortions on P.E.I. in 2017.
Students will also learn the process of performing surgical abortions, be trained in follow-up care and explore what their role is in educating patients about contraceptive options.
Paynter said the course is vital given abortion education is still lacking in many health programs, especially nursing, due to stigma around the procedure.
"Despite abortion having been decriminalized in Canada since 1988, the remaining barriers to access are of course geography … but also the willingness of providers to step up and provide this care," she said.
"If we're going to address that barrier we have to train the providers, and when you realize how normal something is, how safe, how common, that helps you adopt it into your practice and feel comfortable with this care provision."
Paynter said it's also a requirement in health-care providers' code of ethics and standards of practice to never abandon their patients. If they can't offer abortion care, they make a referral to someone who can, she said.
She was involved in introducing training for nursing students on abortion that was part of a larger undergraduate course a couple years ago.
"This is a great expansion of that attention that Dalhousie Health has made to the importance of educating our future health-care practitioners about abortion care," she said.
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