Four COPH alumni publish paper on infertility struggles among college students

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While fertility is a widely studied public health issue, infertility among college students is rarely examined. Most research on fertility among college students focuses on pregnancy prevention. Often seen as hyper-fertile, many women in graduate studies struggling with fertility issues are left to suffer in silence.

Four former USF College of Public Health (COPH) graduate students, along with Dr. Jaime Corvin, a COPH associate professor and director of MPH programs, wanted to identify barriers to access and gaps in available reproductive services to this population.

Their research, “Suffering in silence: Graduate student infertility,” was published in the Journal of American College Health. Along with Corvin, the study was conducted by COPH alumni Cheyenne Wagi, Marissa Rickloff, Noor Ali and Waleska Santiago-Datil .

COPH alumni Marissa Rickloff, Noor Ali and Waleska Santiago-Datil (left to right) presenting their research at the 2018 American Public Health Association Conference. (Cheyenne Wagi not pictured) (Photo, taken pre-COVID, courtesy of Santiago-Datil)
COPH alumni Marissa Rickloff, Noor Ali and Waleska Santiago-Datil (left to right) presenting their research at the 2018 American Public Health Association Conference. (Cheyenne Wagi not pictured) (Photo, taken pre-COVID, courtesy of Santiago-Datil)

The multi-method exploratory study employed online surveys, semi-structured interviews and an assessment of fertility-related school health services at universities throughout the U.S. to understand issues related to infertility, including experiences with and without access to services.

Through their research, the students found a near absence of fertility-related care on college campuses nationally, while a clear need for fertility care among female graduate students emerged locally. They also found that perceptions of poor treatment and dismissal of concerns were prominent issues for this population.

“This research plays a role in reducing the stigma of topics such as breastfeeding, menstruation and infertility,” said Wagi, now a researcher at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. “Infertility is a topic that still holds feelings of shame and discomfort in our society, and that can result in feelings of isolation for these women. Learning more about their experiences and giving them space to share their stories reduces this stigma. When women can share their stories, they begin to form networks of peers who can provide support and share information.”

COPH alumna Cheyenne Wagi (Photo courtesy of Wagi)
COPH alumna Cheyenne Wagi (Photo courtesy of Wagi)

“This topic is important to me because it’s one that often goes unmentioned,” said Santiago-Datil, a research coordinator at Moffitt Cancer Center. “Infertility can be seen as a taboo topic. It’s important that individuals who are struggling with infertility have access to all of the reproductive health resources they need, while also feeling heard and validated in their experiences.”

Overall, their research and findings suggest the need for self-advocacy. It also highlights the role of the university in supporting women suffering from the dual burden of being a student while struggling with fertility-related issues.

“I hope this research will start a greater conversation in public health about infertility and the barriers individuals face when accessing essential reproductive health care,” Santiago-Datil said.

“I hope this research is used to support women who have previously faced barriers in accessing quality care services, and that universities will include information, referrals or services for infertility when developing student health services and health-promotion materials,” Wagi added.

Cheyenne R. Wagi, Noor A. Ali, Waleska L. Santiago-Datil, Marissa A. Rickloff & Jaime A. Corvin (2020) Suffering in silence: Graduate student infertility, Journal of American College Health, DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2020.1851233

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health