Getting up in front of several dozen women to discuss cervical cancer screening and prevention can be a nerve-wracking pursuit. But after presenting at a conference in West Virginia co-led by the School of Nursing, Penn Nursing alumna Jessegnia Velasquez and graduate student Tahara Prescott-Palmer know how to work a crowd. They’ll put these newfound skills to use on Saturday, Aug. 13, at a women’s health fair they organized that will take place from 10 a.m. to noon at Taylor Baptist Memorial Church on Germantown Road in North Philadelphia.
“We feel like we know people in Philadelphia, so it was a good place to test out our feelers” running a health fair, says Prescott-Palmer, a graduate student in Penn’s Nurse-Midwifery program. “It’s a pretty diverse community, with different pockets of populations and people and needs within a very small boundary.”
During spring break 2016, the pair joined a service-learning trip to Appalachia spearheaded by Wendy Grube, director of Penn’s Center for Global Women’s Health and a practice associate professor at Penn Nursing. In West Virginia, some of their student peers conducted free exams; others participated in discussions. Velasquez and Prescott-Palmer gave a talk about cervical cancer, and the experience moved them both.
When they returned to Philadelphia, the duo individually began thinking about ways to bring the program to the Philadelphia community. Grube helped them gather their thoughts and ideas.
“I said to Wendy, ‘This is really great, why don’t we have this in Philadelphia?’” Prescott-Palmer explains. “She said back to me, ‘Why don’t we have this in Philadelphia?’ She gave me that look like, ‘It’s on you.’”
Both researchers had a strong local connection: Prescott-Palmer grew up in West Philly and Velasquez, who graduated in June from Penn’s Women’s Health/Gender Related Nurse Practitioner program, was born and raised in North Philadelphia.
“I was inspired to do [this] in the neighborhood where I’m from,” Velasquez says. “These are women who don’t have a lot of knowledge on cervical cancer and its prevention, especially detection and pap smears.”
The Aug. 13 fair will resemble a support group more than a health education seminar. Penn Nursing students will present on cervical cancer and give out small gifts, including a cancer awareness bracelet. The main goal, organizers say, is ensuring that those who attend understand the information being dispersed and share it with members of the community.
“We provide them with the knowledge, they provide [that] knowledge to their family and friends,” Velasquez says. “What is one fact you’re going to tell your friend, your sister, a woman about cervical cancer prevention?”
Prescott-Palmer echoes those feelings.
“If they’ve found something that was worth remembering at the end of these two hours, to actually open their mouths and share it with somebody else, then this [will have] been a success,” she says.
For further details about the fair, contact Velasquez via e-mail.