By Dirk Hoffman
Published November 17, 2023
The medical student-run OB-GYN Interest Group is providing free sanitary products in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in order to instill a more supportive environment for everyone and to destigmatize menstrual health.
Dispensers containing free tampons and menstrual pads have been installed in 11 restrooms throughout the Jacobs School building — the main restrooms that students use — on the first and second floors and outside the gross anatomy lab on the seventh floor
The four co-presidents of the OB-GYN Interest Group, all second-year medical students, spearheaded the effort with assistance from Samantha Bordonaro, MD, assistant dean for student and academic affairs, and Julie Szrama, student and academic affairs coordinator in the Offices of Medical Education.
“I would be concerned as a person who menstruates not having access to products,” says Juliana Greene. “It can make you miss class or be late for class; you might have to leave campus in some instances.”
“We’re students who are going into the medical field. Menstrual health should not be a stigma, but unfortunately it is,” says Sara Nieto. “The reality is that people use these items every day and they should not be some weird, hidden product.”
“We did a lot of surveys on who needed the products and asked, ‘how can we support you in that?’ Nieto adds. “Just having people who menstruate hear that support makes everything more open.”
Daniela Falcone says the group sent out surveys to students, faculty and staff and solicited comments, which helped them determine how many products to order and where to put them throughout the school.
The students said they wanted their initiative to cover all the bases so they decided to put the dispensers in all types of restrooms at the Jacobs School — female-assigned, male-assigned and single-user gender inclusive restrooms.
“Some people may ask why are the products in the male restrooms, but there could be trans males who need them,” Nieto says. “We wanted to make them accessible to anyone who needs them.”
“We also found out from the survey that buying menstrual products places a huge financial burden on some students, so this became a health equity issue as well,” Falcone says.
“We wanted to make sure our school was addressing this issue and we could not have done it without the support of Dr. Bordonaro and Julie Szrama,” Falcone adds.
Bordonaro says she is “really proud of the work of the students.”
Bordonaro met with various stakeholders to inform them of the OB-GYN Interest Group’s plans and facilitated a memorandum of understanding between all of the parties involved, including the Department of Facilities Planning and Management.
Szrama ordered the products using funding from the budget she oversees of the John A. Wendel Endowment Fund, established by the late Mrs. Virginia Wendel. The fund’s purpose is for wellness programming for students.
Falcone notes the group also wanted to provide a more sustainable sanitary product option to those students who wanted it.
“We used our club budget funds to purchase some menstrual cups that were given to about 30 students completely free of charge,” she says. “They were given away as needed as a more environmental-friendly option.”
Menstrual cups, made of silicone, create less waste because they can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time and have a lifespan of several years.
Holly Houenstein says the OB-GYN Interest Group is also undertaking another project to make a more welcoming environment in the Lactation Room located on the sixth floor (Room 6142) of the Jacobs School building.
“We would like to make it a more aesthetically pleasing lactation room that can be used by anyone associated with the medical campus,” she says. “Right now, it is basically just four walls with no windows.”
A mini refrigerator has been installed so that breast milk can be stored without it spoiling. The group has also purchased posters, decorations and door hangings.
“We want to make it a more comfortable place so people will want to pump in there rather than just sitting in their office and closing the blinds,” Houenstein says. “We want people to know it is a dedicated space they can use.”
Nieto says she is hopeful the group’s initiatives are easy for her fellow medical students to support.
“We are all interested in OB-GYN and our jobs will be to advocate for our patients,” she says. “How can we do that if we do not advocate for ourselves and our peers?”