For adolescents, sexual health can be a difficult subject to discuss with parents and, oftentimes, even friends. Recognizing the need to have this type of information accessible to young people, St. Mary’s Hospital has created the Youth Clinic of St. Mary’s Family Medicine Centre.
The centre opens once a week and offers care and education about topics such as mutual consent and safer sex. Geared to those between 14-25, it also provides services for those who have had unprotected sex including sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings, vaccinations, and contraceptives.
Gettina Zambito, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital for 22 years, says that they hope to educate young people about their sexual health to avoid a rise in STI cases. “We give them the tools for them to make safe decisions for their sexual practices, no matter what they choose to do or whom they choose to do it with,” she explains. “According to the public health of Montreal, there was a rise in certain STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea in the past 10 years in the youth populations (14-25), so we needed to do our part to control and treat the spread of these infections.”
The clinic also benefits St. Mary’s residents, medical and nursing students from the family medical centre, who gain experience dealing with a younger age group.
Zambito says she wants the younger generation to gain knowledge to help them with future decisions. “They need to take care of their health, including their sexual health,” she said.
By law, patients 14 or over are able to see a health care professional such as a nurse or doctor without parental or guardian consent or knowledge. “Having said that, we run into delicate issues that concern their health, and so we encourage them to speak with their parents about the issue,” she says. “Sometimes they need a little bit of a push and other times they need role playing because they’re scared about how their parents might react.”
From what Zambito has seen, younger patients feel more comfortable speaking with a doctor or nurse knowing that it is confidential and that he or she is there to support them. “We really want the community to know that we’re open to any sexual orientation or gender identity; we are here to discuss your sexual health and not here to judge what you have done or are planning to do,” she says.
Zambito says it is important for parents to talk to their kids about sexual health. “We need to discuss that [sexuality] is not something taboo or dirty; it is just part of humanity and our physical beings,” she says. “I understand that certain parents don’t feel comfortable discussing sexuality, but I’m sure they do care about the well-being of their children, so the least they can do is to refer them to someone who can discuss the topic.”
The clinic accepts any patient as long as they have a Medicare card. Opening hours are Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. by drop-in or appointment.
For more information about the youth clinic, call 514-734-7405 or visitsmhc.qc.ca