When Maryn Behling began her education at BYU, she never expected to end up in the nursing program, let alone love what she studied. But Behling quickly became entranced with the anatomy of the human body, so much so that she became an anatomy TA.
As she taught students about human anatomy, she noticed something that got her thinking.
“Every semester, we go through all the body systems and teach [the students] all that stuff,” Behling said. “One that kind of always shocked me is when we got to the reproductive system. I would have students stay after for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour every semester and ask the most basic questions. I’m so glad they’re getting it. But what about the other 70% of the student body that doesn’t take anatomy?”
After seeing her peers’ lack of knowledge about the body, Behling felt inspired to do something about it.
A BYU general health science course
With the help of fellow anatomy TAs and other medically minded students, Behling started BYU Health Science, a student-led organization, on June 9, 2022. The goal of the group was to create a general education health course students could take, regardless of their area of study.
“There are so many other universities that have all these basic health science classes just for non-STEM students, board member Cassidy Spillet said. “I really think that this could be a big blessing and opportunity for a lot of BYU students because there isn’t a class like this already.”
The goal of this class would be to improve health literacy at BYU.
According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, health literacy “is the ability to read, understand and act on health information.”
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy has found that “nearly 9 out of 10 adults do not have proficient health literacy and, therefore, may not have the skills required to manage their health.”
Committee members have made it their goal to fill in the lapses of health knowledge and literacy at BYU through their organization.
“We want this class to be an introduction to a lot of [different] material,” board member Staton Albert said. “A little bit of anatomy and a little bit of physiology, a little bit of sexual health, mental health, disease prevention, nutrition, all those things just kind of rolled into one.”
Dr. Liana P. Au, medical director at the BYU Student Health Center, believes that a general education health class would be valuable for many students.
“More than half [of the students seen at the health center] have a lack of knowledge [in mental, physical or sexual health],” Au said. “There’s a good amount of students also that are very proactive in terms of finding the right information and getting the education that they need, so there’s kind of a mix of the two.”
Asking the right questions
Dr. Au believes that getting that information and asking the right questions is “half the battle” in taking care of our mind, body and spirit.
Board member Olivia Lindburg hopes BYU Health Science will win the battle against a lack in understanding of the body, that she sees in many students at BYU.
“We want to be able to create a space for students to be able to ask those hard questions and find the help that they need. A lot of students on campus either don’t know about certain resources, or just have no idea who to ask or are uncomfortable asking some of those questions,” Lindberg said. “We want BYU Health Science to be a place where they can come every week and be a part of a community where they can get that information.”
The BYU Student Health Center currently offers premarital classes with the hope of answering some of those hard questions about male and female anatomy and physiology, as well as birth control. Sexual health is just one of the topics that Dr. Au hopes will be included if BYU Health Science becomes a class.
“I think nutrition is a big one,” Dr. Au said. “Having resources of knowing how to feed yourself healthy food when you have limited money and time is really valuable. Some of the choices that students end up making are really not great for their health.”
Au also hopes to see “recommendations for maintaining mental health and stress management for everybody that’s in college. Some people forget about the simple things that you should do to maintain your mental health.”
“We want to create this course here at BYU [so that] we can have a healthier community,” board member Joseph Monsen said. “I love BYU. It has been so amazing for me, and I wouldn’t trade my experience here at this university for anything. But that doesn’t change the fact that changes can be made so that we can be a healthier location for everyone, for all demographics and for all people.”
BYU Health Science hopes to be ready to present the potential curriculum to the university in December 2022 and to have the general health class ready for students for the Fall 2023 semester.
A spiritual goal
The goal of BYU Health Science is to not only teach BYU students about their body, but to also help BYU students connect with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
“A big goal that we have is appreciation,” board member Bryce Palmer said. “We really want people to grow to appreciate the gift that they’ve been given by God: their bodies.”
Behling added, “We’re learning the most pure and simple doctrine of Jesus Christ just by learning about our bodies.”
She explained that everyone is a child of Heavenly Father and that truth is the most basic level of understanding who we are and our relationship to our Savior.
“Whether people want to recognize that or not, it’s going to be a point of unity for all students at BYU,” Behling said. “I hope that chips away at biases on both ends, that people can come to this middle ground and just say, ‘You know what? I am like you, you’re like me and we’re both like our Savior.'”