When Sydney Doe, a third-year medical student, decided to focus her Area of Scholarly Concentration (AOSC) research project on a local subject — menstrual hygiene management needs and issues among young women in Chicago public high schools — she had no idea that the work would garner national recognition.
Nonetheless, the Women’s Caucus of the American Public Health Association (APHA) recently named Doe the winner of the Highest Scoring Student Abstract Award; Doe will receive the award at the APHA Annual Meeting in November, where she’ll also present initial findings of her research.
Doe is conducting the novel, mixed-method qualitative study under the mentorship of Melissa Simon, MD, MPH, vice chair for clinical research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the George H. Gardner, MD, Professor of Clinical Gynecology, and Leah Neubauer, EdD, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine.
Beyond her public health research, Doe has also been recognized for her advocacy work at Feinberg: last year, Doe was awarded a Student Senate Service Award for founding “Calls for Change,” an organization that facilitates weekly phone call and letter writing sessions to government representatives about current health policy.
In this Q&A, Doe shares more about her research, what she loves about being a medical student at Feinberg, and her plans for the future:
Why did you choose Feinberg?
I chose Feinberg for a few reasons. Firstly, Feinberg offers many opportunities to volunteer and train in low-resource settings in Chicago. Not only do I find these experiences meaningful, but they’ll prepare me to work with this population in the future. For example, at my Individual Preceptorship (IP), I worked at a Federally-Qualified Health Center with many Spanish-speaking patients. This gave me the opportunity to practice my Spanish and work alongside physicians doing exactly the kind of work I hope to do.
Secondly, the culture here truly can’t be beat. This is the first environment I’ve been in where I’ve felt like I had the complete support of every one of my instructors and the administration. No one is trying to trick you or intimidate you. When you make mistakes, the attitude among the faculty isn’t shaming or punitive; they want to support you so you can do better in the future. The positivity is also tangible among the students. Before an exam, everyone is swapping study resources and motivational quotes. I don’t think I’d work well in an environment where I felt like I was constantly in competition with my peers.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
My most rewarding experience has been working with the patients at my IP. While it’s definitely rewarding to master difficult concepts in the Science in Medicine curriculum or to attend conferences to present research you’ve conducted, in my book nothing is quite as satisfying as the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned from those experiences directly to help someone out.
How did you become interested in your AOSC research project?
I became interested in menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in schools during my volunteer work as a high school debate coach with Chicago Debates. It started when I was caught empty-handed by a student asking for supplies. An older, more experienced female coach saved the day. She advised me to always bring an emergency kit with menstrual supplies for my team, and to let the debaters know I had it so they knew whom to ask. This sounded like a great idea to me, but when I brought it up with my boss and the other coaches on my team (all male), it was always brushed aside and never implemented.
When I was looking for an AOSC project and I met with Dr. Simon and Dr. Neubauer, it felt like a perfect fit. They taught me about how poor access to MHM is in many other countries, and encouraged me to look into MHM in the United States, where there has so far been very little research. I’m hoping that my work uncovering and carefully documenting the experiences of high school students can be used to better advocate for their needs.
So far, our research has indicated that many high school students are frustrated with the lack of practical education about MHM. They are often taught about ovaries, eggs and fallopian tubes, but not about how to insert a tampon or apply a pad to their underwear. Additionally, many curriculums are designed under the assumption that some parts of MHM education will come from parents or friends, which disproportionately hurts low-income and minority students for whom MHM is less often discussed in the home due to cultural taboos and more stressed relationships.
What class or aspect of the curriculum has been your favorite?
My favorite part of the curriculum is Medical Decision Making (MDM). It’s the “mathiest” part of the curriculum, and I’m not a huge math person, but I think it’s so cool to delve into the logic behind decisions in patient treatment and diagnostics. This class allows me to feel like I’m learning to think like a physician. As someone interested in health policy, I also appreciate the opportunity MDM offers to switch gears and critically evaluate the guidelines that shape clinical practice.
How do you maintain balance as a medical student?
Honestly, other Feinberg students are my main “de-stressors.” I always have such a great time attending game nights hosted by other students. We laugh so much that we easily forget about whatever is stressing us out. My friends and I go out for all-you-can-eat sushi, throw birthday parties for our pets, and go for long walks and bike rides through the city. Not only are the people here a joy to spend time with, but when I’m frustrated or overwhelmed, I know that they will understand exactly what I’m experiencing.