Expanding Embryology: AAA Member Seeks to Destigmatize Sexual Health

There is a lot of mystery around pelvic anatomy and development, specifically how these topics are talked about and taught in classes, according to Kansas City University Associate Professor of Anatomy Jennifer Dennis. 

As an embryologist, Dennis specializes in organism development, specifically human development. But her interest in increasing discussions and content around being more representative in how anatomy is taught is a personal one, she explained. 

“My personal interest has always been the issues surrounding gender minorities. I have a lot of experience working with student clubs, and that includes awareness about LBGTQIA populations and medicine and a type of curriculum that a lot of times isn’t in medical schools… It came from a drive of working with students who were gay, lesbian and transgender and experienced the lack of representation.” 

Jennifer Dennis , a AAA member since 2014

Students tend to appreciate Dennis opening up the discussion on gender representation in the study of embryology. “From a positive perspective, it ranges from ‘I fall into this type of individual and it resonates with me directly in my personal life and thank you for talking about it. Now I feel like I can be better physician or healthcare worker,’” Dennis noted. “Others are like, ‘Now that I know this, I can be a better friend and ally to people who this is more directly relevant to in their personal lives. Now I can be more knowledgeable and educated.’”

To help broaden educators’ information and awareness, Dennis along with several of her colleagues held a master class on the pelvis, perineum and pelvic health at EB 2022 in April. “Through Twitter, I have found other anatomists supporting that in similar ways, and from that the master class came about,” Dennis said. “It really was designed to increase the amount of talk, and content and effort that we put into being more representative in how we teach anatomy because usually we just do male and female and that’s not representative of the population.” 

The well-attended session featured Melissa Carroll from The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, who spoke on pelvic anatomy, Kathryn Moore from the University of Utah, who focused on gender inclusive language in embryology; and Karen Snowden from Lehigh Valley Health Network Rehabilitation Services, who covered musculoskeletal considerations in pelvic health. 

“The room was packed and it was really great to see. I also really was thrilled that it wasn’t just anatomists in that session, but we also had physical therapists and other areas of health care besides medicine where pelvic health is critically important,” Dennis said. 

Destigmatizing the discussion around sexual health and gender inclusivity is important, even if it makes some people uncomfortable, she said. “I personally shared the master class session on my own Twitter, Facebook other social media and there were a lot of comments, like, ‘I can’t believe you are talking about this. It’s inappropriate.’ And that to me reaffirms my stance that you have to keep talking about this,” Dennis said. “I’ve been just that much more open and talking about issues related to pelvic disease, pelvic dysfunction and sexual health to kind of normalize it.”  

Watch a short video of Dennis explaining the master class

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