The University of Oxford medical school is one of several medical schools in the United Kingdom now embracing a “groundbreaking feminist way of teaching medical undergraduates gynecology,” reports Olivia Gordon, by enlisting regular women to help teach medical students how to properly care for their female patients.
“One in three British women between 25-29 don’t attend smear tests, often because of fears they are embarrassing or painful, which has led to a rise in cases of cervical cancer,” says Gordon.
Many women dread cervical screening tests, such as pap smears, having experienced less than ideal exams in the past, while “vaginal exams are of course especially hard,” notes Gordon, “for women who have experienced rape or sexual abuse.”
“The history of how medical students have been taught gynecology is shady—as recently as the 1990s, anesthetized women undergoing operations were routinely used as guinea pigs for students to practice vaginal exams, without their knowledge or consent.”
It’s clear that the medical profession needs to hear from women in order to make these intrusive but necessary exams less traumatic for women. Listening to, and practicing vaginal examinations on, real women who have been trained to give instructive feedback—instead of plastic models—seems like a step in the right direction.