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Q&A with Nurse Practitioner Cathy Halmarick

Cathy at Frankston Hospital

Q: What service do you provide for local people through your role at Peninsula Health?

A: There are two clinics; the Outpatient Department is called the ‘Women’s Health Clinic’ and in community health the service is called the ‘Sexual & Reproductive Health Service’ but they both offer the same service. The main difference being that I work alongside a Doctor in the Outpatient Department.

These services include; contraceptive advice and treatment, screening for sexually transmitted infections including blood borne viruses. The service also offers advice to pregnant women for both planned and unplanned pregnancies (pregnancy choices). Included in these services are women requiring assistance with management of menopause, painful menstruation, and breast health.

Q: What are some of the different contraception choices available for women?

A: Contraceptive options include; Long acting reversible contraceptive devices (LARC’s) such as the Intrauterine device which lasts 5-10 years (Copper or hormonal IUD); Etonogestrel implant which lasts 3 years; (Implanon NXT), Depo medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo 3 monthly injection); the contraceptive pill; the contraceptive vaginal ring; and condoms – both male and female.

Q: Are IUD (Intra Uterine Devices) safe? Are there any side effects and is it painful to get?

A: The IUD’s can be hormonal (Mirena IUD) which last for 5 years or non-hormonal (Copper IUD’s) which last for 5-10 years.

They are all extremely protective against pregnancy (over 99%) and are safe to use providing they are put in correctly.

The procedure can be uncomfortable for a short duration, but some women experience no pain during the procedure. We advise women to take some analgesia prior to having the device inserted which seems to help reduce the amount of discomfort. Remember, the procedure is of short duration.

The hormonal IUD has the following side effects, which normally resolve within a few months; headaches, acne, bleeding. Spotting can occur intermittently for up to 6 months after the IUD has been inserted but bleeding usually becomes less and less over time.

The non-hormonal IUD may increase the duration and amount of menstrual bleeding. So if a woman has a heavy period, this may not be the perfect option for her.

Q: When it comes to looking after your reproductive and sexual health, what are your top tips for women?

A: We are lucky to have screening services available to us and I would encourage all women to access these services.

Having a regular cervical screening test every 5 years is important in the prevention of cervical cancer (this test used to be called the Pap smear and was done 2 yearly).

It is also important to incorporate regular STI screening into an individual’s health check. All people who are sexually active under the age of 30 years old, should have yearly Chlamydia tests. Those people over the age of 30 should be screened if they are embarking on a new sexual relationship, have symptoms or concerns.

Regular breast self-examination is important for women of all ages, particularly those over the age of 50 years old when the incidence of breast cancer increases. Having a regular mammogram from the age of 50 is important for early detection and treatment of breast cancer. Although rare, young people who check their breasts are more likely to detect changes if they are familiar with their own body.

Ensuring suitable contraception is so important in the prevention of unplanned pregnancies. It is nice to be able to make the choice to have a pregnancy at a time which suits. Remember that there are lots of contraceptive choices and if the first one you choose doesn’t suit try something else. The long acting devices are more reliable and not so easy to forget!

Making sure immunisations are current not only protects the individual from infectious diseases but it also ensures protection for the community. You can check your immunisation status through the immunisation registry.

To make an appointment with the Women’s Health Clinic or Sexual and Reproductive Health Service call 1300 665 781.