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Nursing Student Investigates STD Screening Among Battered Women


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Posted: 3/19/2004


Phyllis Sharps and Megan O’Brien Gold

Nursing senior Megan O’Brien Gold has conducted original research on the rates of STDs among battered women and proposed improvements in testing methods. As part of the JHU Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award program, Gold spent months last year delving into her topic.

Gold’s project involved 21 women at the House of Ruth, a shelter for female victims of domestic violence. It is one of several sites for the Wald Community Nursing Center run by School of Nursing faculty and students. Gold works there as part of the school’s community outreach program.

All women who come to the House of Ruth are seen initially at the center to familiarize them with its nursing services, which currently include screening for sexually transmitted diseases through cervical swab, if a woman requests it.

Knowing that previous research has linked abusive relationships with increased rates of STDs among women, Gold explored changing the protocol for screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia, the most frequently reported infectious diseases among men and women.

“Women with undiagnosed and untreated infection are at risk for significant gynecologic problems and increased risk of HIV transmission,” Gold said. “Many of the women we see at the clinic are not receiving medical attention. Ideally, every one of them should be offered urine screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia.”

In its 11-year existence, the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Awards program has given 483 students grants approaching $1 million to follow their curiosity, thanks to funding primarily from the Hodson Trust. This year’s winning students presented their findings in a ceremony on Thursday, March 11.

With Hodson support, the university is able to offer its undergraduates opportunities each year to apply for stipends to conduct independent research during the summer or fall. It’s a commitment that the university feels is central to its mission, said Steven Knapp, university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

“Since its beginnings, Johns Hopkins has always emphasized the value of learning through discovery, and this program is an important opportunity for undergraduates to work in this tradition with our best and most creative faculty at the forefront of their fields,” Knapp said.

Armed with her PURA, Gold set out to determine two things: the prevalence of gonorrhea and chlamydia among women at the shelter, and the acceptability of universal urine screening. The results of Gold’s project were just as she expected. One woman of the 21 tested positive for chlamydia, or roughly 5 percent of the study sample, slightly more than the average of 3 percent for female Baltimore residents ages 18 to 35. “I wasn’t expecting it to be more, but the results are enough. Now we have the data we need to validate the implementation of universal screening,” Gold said.

In addition, Gold reports that the women were very willing and interested in participating and were favorable to the urine-testing method of screening. “The urine test is not expensive, and it’s noninvasive,” she said, noting that treatment for these diseases is far more costly than the cost of urine screening.

Gold’s faculty sponsor, Phyllis Sharps, is pleased with the project. “The results of Megan’s research have the potential to change nursing practice in our clinic,” said Sharps, associate professor and director of the school’s master’s program. “This could lead to implementing a quicker, less expensive and accurate method for screening for STDs and to improving health outcomes for the women who come to the House of Ruth.”