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Men's Health Initiative: Teachable Moments

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By Drexler B. James, Central Florida Future

What began as a small, two-person project in an office no bigger than a closet at Temple University in Philadelphia has now become a nationally recognized organization with seven staff members in Pennsylvania and one of the founders and directors working at UCF with 30 students.

Michael Rovito, a health sciences/pre-clinical professor, is one of the two original founders of Men's Health Initiative, an organization designed to address health issues related to men in the community. Rovito was inspired after having a cancer scare when he was 17 years old.

"I felt a lump and got scared," Rovito said. "I did some research and I couldn't find any information and thought, 'This isn't right.'"

Disappointed at the lack of information relating to men's health and fueled with a desire to keep other men from dealing with the same situation, Rovito began Men's Health Initiative in June 2010 during his first year as a professor at Temple.

Men's Health Initiative has three objectives which are known as the "Three I's." These goals are to inform men of health and wellness, identify risks unique to men and implement behavioral intervention. Issues that Men's Health Initiative focus on include testicular and prostate health, masculinity, fatherhood and sexual promiscuity among men. However, those are not the only goals, Rovito said, as Men's Health Initiative also wants to bridge the gender gap concerning health.

Frank Johnson, a public health student at Temple University who has been involved with Men's Health Initiative for more than a year, also wants to help with the imbalance between promotion for men's and women's health.

"There are gender disparities in health, and the public needs to understand that promoting the health of men is also promoting the health of women, family and communities as well," Johnson said.

Despite the name, Men's Health Initiative is not a male-only organization. Many women are also involved with the movement, which Rovito believes is due to men's health being a hot new field of study. One of Men's Health Initiative's partnerships is with Women Against Prostate Cancer.

Lisa Soler, a senior health sciences/pre-clinical student who got involved with Men's Health Initiative in fall 2011, says that she often gets the raised eyebrow when she mentions her involvement with the organization, but she doesn't mind.

"Health is health, and I believe in spreading the word about educating yourself on health, whether male or female," Soler said.

Rovito said that he hopes Men's Health Initiative can begin outreach in the UCF and greater Orlando community, teaching and lecturing at churches, men's groups and other organizations. He also hopes to have programs that men can get involved with, such as "Movember" and March Mustache Madness, where men grow facial hair for the entire month to raise awareness of men's health.

"The notion of being aware of your health as a man was seen as unmanly," Rovito said. "Now, we're going out of the dark ages of that thinking. We have MHI to help with that process. It's OK to talk about this stuff."

Current projects that Men's Health Initiative is working on include a proposal to make the group a non-profit organization, having students submit research to the Office of Student Undergraduate Research, among other projects.

Junior Spencer Morley, a health sciences/pre-clinical student, is currently working on a project surrounding informed decision making about cancer screenings with the main focus being cancer of the prostate. Soler is researching background information for a proposal for a study on testicular self-examination and the effect that social media may have in spreading awareness and promoting monthly examinations with a focus on texting as a way of informing men.

While the majority of students involved are health science/pre-clinical studies students, Rovito hopes that students of other majors will soon become involved with the program. An application has been recently developed in order to help sustain the flow of students interested.

"It's reaching a point where I can't handle any more students right now," Rovito said.

But this doesn't mean that there are not still plans to continue to grow. Until then, students interested in the program can find more information on the official Men's Health Initiative website

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