The Medical Council of Canada says it’s reviewing its practices after being criticized online for prohibiting women from bringing tampons or menstrual pads into exam rooms while writing multi-hour tests.
Dr. Michelle Cohen, advocacy chairwoman with Canadian Women in Medicine, said it’s “sexist and unfair” to confiscate feminine hygiene products from exam takers, or to require them to ask exam supervisors for access to them in the middle of a test.
“It’s just a completely disgusting overreach and outrageously invasive,” Cohen said in an interview from Brighton, Ont., where she works as a family doctor.
Cohen launched a petition calling for change, saying that making menstrual products available in washrooms doesn’t adequately solve the problem because exam writers are entitled to use the product of their choice.
While women now outnumber men in medical schools, she said gender parity has not worked its way up to leadership positions.
“When we look at medical leadership it hasn’t really changed the same way that movement in the profession has really changed, has really feminized. So a lot of those rules are still quite antiquated and reflect a sexist bias,” she said.
In a statement on Wednesday, the council said it does not have a policy on the use and access to menstrual products during exams, but personal items such as purses, bags and backpacks are not permitted in the exam area.
It says bags stored away on site can be accessed by staff on request, and test takers can also request to use the washroom and to have access to necessary personal items but it must be under supervision by exam administrators.
“We sincerely regret any frustration that this has caused,” the statement said.
“A group is being established to review current practices and we look forward to collaborating with learners to identify opportunities for improvement in these practices moving forward.”