Thomas Brooke

Thomas Brooke (NHS ’14) recently returned from an internship in northern Ghana where he worked at a research clinic to fulfill his International Health major requirement. Brooke primarily investigated the reproductive health education of high school adolescents and their retention of information.

The International Health major requires that students complete an internship abroad during their senior year, with locations in Central and South America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. Brooke selected Ghana since it is one of the oldest program options, explaining, “They are used to us coming and the research process is very streamlined.”

Navrongo, Ghana, is home to one of the oldest research centers in the country, established nearly 20 years ago. Brooke found the allocation of resources towards health improvement in Navrongo remarkable. He was impressed to learn that the region performs a census every four months, investigating the births, deaths, and education levels of the population. Each household is assigned a number for efficiency, and indicators on the likes of maternal health, nutrition, and malaria are examined. As part of his internship, Brooke participated in household visits typically completed by community health field workers.

Brooke’s research in Ghana was a continuation of a study performed by a student in 2012. While his predecessor’s research was primarily centered on the reproductive health of middle school students, Brooke chose to focus on adolescents in high school. He questioned the students on topics such as HIV, contraception, and menstrual cycles. He also examined the relationship of their knowledge to attitudes and behaviors. Brooke’s interest in the reproductive health field was incited after participating in a program through Children’s National Medical Center that provided reproductive health lessons to the D.C. community. He finds that such instruction is crucial, since “they are the next population at risk.”

Brooke was assigned to work with a high school comprised of 269 students. He was surprised to find that many of the classrooms would have as many as 40 to 50 students, and that “everyone was really receptive.” Brooke’s work involved field worker training, transportation and logistics, data entry, and data analysis using SPSS. His research demonstrated that while health lessons were well-attended, the association to the knowledge of students was poor. For example, when quizzed on reproductive health, 23.4% of surveyed students thought that the uterus was a male reproductive organ. While there was not an apparent association with knowledge, there was an association with practices. This was evident in the decrease of HIV stigma, increase in acceptance of abstinence until marriage, and an increase in the number of students refusing sexual advances. Students also reported that they were more likely to use protection after attending the health lessons.

Upon his graduation, Brooke will be working as a medical assistant at a doctor’s office and possibly as an ER emergency technician. He hopes to eventually work with an organization similar to Futures Group, performing more international health work that involves the coordination of projects and site management. Brooke wants to have “lots of patient interaction that will put a smile on my face every day.”

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