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Wyoming Health Council Encourages Annual Gynecological Exams for Women

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Your health matters. That isn’t the mission statement of the Wyoming Health Council, but it should be. It’s a phrase that is oft-repeated within their walls and is something they genuinely believe.

Your health matters.

This is true for men, women and adolescents, but women especially should take extra measures to ensure their health.

One way to do this is by getting an annual exam.

An annual exam is a yearly check-up to ensure your body is in good shape. Annual exams, which can also be called gynecological exams, pelvic exams or well-woman exams, are imperative to a woman’s health, and the Wyoming Health Council strongly encourages anybody with breasts, a vulva or a uterus to receive one every year.

It’s important to note that annual exams are not the same thing as pap smears. Pap smears are procedures used to test women for cervical cancer. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that women should begin having a Pap Test or Pap Smear at age 21. Then, depending on age and history, women may only need a Pap Test every 3–5 years. That is one of the main differences between a pap smear and an annual exam — annual exams, as their name implies, should happen every year.

“Ultimately, women can say that they don’t need a pap every year,” said Gail Wilson, the clinical director of the Wyoming Health Council. “But they still need to come in for other things. There is general health maintenance, routine blood work, and other issues that should be addressed every year. It is a chance for women to discuss with their provider anything that might be going on, so that they can help you and maybe refer you to other healthcare services. Maybe you don’t need your Pap, or maybe you don’t need your birth control renewed, but you should still get an exam. You still have other body systems that need to be cared for.”

The WHC website states that, during annual exams, a doctor or nurse will check blood pressure, heart rate and weight. They may also perform a physical exam, checking breasts and the abdomen for abnormalities. Additionally, depending on one’s age, they may also perform a pelvic exam, utilizing a speculum to examine the inside of the vagina or cervix. The clinical provider could also perform a pap smear. They can also go over birth control options or STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) if the person is sexually active.

The clinics within the Wyoming Health Council offer these services and many more. The WHC features eight Title X Family Planning Clinics and two satellite clinics. These are extremely beneficial to individuals and families who may not have health insurance.

“We would definitely suggest that women make appointments with their providers for annual exams,” said Summer Richardson, the education and outreach coordinator of the Wyoming Health Council. “But they can also go to our Title X Family Planning Clinics, which are low cost, no cost or on a sliding-fee scale. Insurance is welcome as well, but many women, and people in general in Wyoming, do not have health insurance. And so, they need to know that there’s still a place they can go for this type of healthcare. They need to know that they can be seen.”

In fact, Richardson stated, women who make appointments with the Title X clinics can probably be seen faster than if they scheduled an appointment with their usual provider.

“Unlike traditional providers or OB/GYNs, you can get into our clinics relatively quickly,” Richardson revealed. “Sometimes people with traditional providers, it’s like a year out to get scheduled for an annual exam. But with our Title X Clinics, they can get in that week, most likely. Most of them even have same-day appointments.”

These clinics are scattered throughout Wyoming. The Casper-Natrona County Health Department serves as Natrona County’s Title X Clinic. There are also clinics in Cheyenne, Gillette, Laramie, Cody, Sheridan, Worland and Rock Springs, with satellite clinics in Mills and Powell.

“We’ve been providing reproductive healthcare and family planning in Wyoming since 1990,” said Rob Johnston, the executive director of the Wyoming Health Council. “We’ve been around for a while and have a robust group of providers around the state. We have 10 service sites and the services that are provided are community-driven by the needs of that community.”

Those needs, according to Johnston, often differ and vary from community to community. The various clinics that are a part of the Wyoming Health Council provide a wealth of healthcare services, wherever, whenever and however they’re needed. Clinics offer HIV and STI testing but, Johnston emphasized, that isn’t all that they do.

“You don’t have to have an infection or a disease in order to be seen by us,” he shared. “I think sometimes, that’s the impression — ‘Oh, they’re just the STI or the HIV clinic.’ We’re so much more than that. We offer general health maintenance. Some clinics will manage blood pressure, some will manage diabetes. All clinics offer pregnancy testing and STI testing, partner treatment and routine labs, as well as counseling and birth control options.”

The clinics within the Wyoming Health Council offer education, preconception care, emergency contraceptive information and more. Adolescents can be seen without a parent or guardian as well, though the providers at these clinics do encourage young people to involve their parents, guardians or another trusted adult in the decisions they make related to their sexual and reproductive health. The WHC is committed to providing vital information and care to individuals who request services, regardless of their age.

Because their health matters.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that we are here for prevention and to support the healthiest outcomes for people across their lifespan — specifically the timing and preparation for healthy pregnancies,” Wilson stated. “We’re very client-centered and we continue to support an individuals’ right to choose when and if they have children, and the number of children they wish to have. We do not provide abortions. We provide factual, non-directive options, counseling and resources based only on what the client requests.”

The clinics that make up the Wyoming Health Council exist for anybody who needs them. They believe that no matter somebody’s sex, gender, color, creed or religion, their health matters. And they want to provide the absolute best care that they possibly can. That was the goal when the Wyoming Health Council was first conceived, and it is the goal still. Everybody there — from the clinic directors to the doctors, nurses, front staff and more — exist to serve their communities and to ensure the best possible healthcare is provided.

“Especially in the past year, it’s almost more important than ever to understand your physical health, to understand your reproductive health and to protect and be proactive about it, instead of winding up in a situation where you do have to cross state lines for something,” Richardson shared. “We use this tagline: ‘It’s your body and your life.’ So be proactive about knowing yourself and protecting yourself and having the best health that you can.”

To learn more about the Wyoming Health Council, visit their website or follow their Facebook page for daily updates, information and resources. 

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