An end to #TAMPONGATE. Period.

An outcry over the banning of feminine hygiene products created a hashtag of its own. #tampongate erupted on social media, after it was revealed that the Medical Council of Canada required medical trainees and residents to declare any menstrual hygiene products before going in for their exams.

'Sexist and unfair,' says advocacy chair of Canadian Women in Medicine

An uproar over women handing over tampons during medical exams created a catchy hashtag and a call from medical professionals to reverse the 'sexist' practice. (Anna Schlosser/Shutterstock)

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Who knew that a cylindrical-shaped piece of cotton and rayon would cause such a controversy?

But it did.

It started last fall when the Medical Council of Canada, which evaluates over 11,000 medical students and graduates, required women to declare any menstrual hygiene products before going in for the exams.

Basically, it was forcing exam writers to hand over pads and tampons, said Dr. Michelle Cohen, a family doctor and the advocacy chair for Canadian Women in Medicine.

There was outrage online, spawning the catchy hashtag, #TAMPONGATE. Cohen also launched a petition urging a swift end to the offensive menstruation policy. It was a "sexist and unfair" practice she said.

Apparently, tampons or pads could be seen as a potential way to cheat during exams.

"As far as I know, there's never been an issue with somebody actually being caught cheating with something like a tampon," said Cohen.  "It seems pretty much impossible to me."

But just in time for spring exams, the Medical Council of Canada posted on its website that it was changing its policy on menstrual hygiene products.

In a news release it said it was updating its practices for accessing personal items during qualifying examinations.

"We heard you!," it declared in the statement.

The council said it was expanding the list of items that can be taken into exam rooms without advance permission, which now includes menstrual products.

But to keep the exam process fair and equal, the council said that everyone writing the exam will be asked to disclose what they're taking with them into the room and show the items to a staff member for inspection.

Cohen hopes that doesn't mean an overly intrusive inspection of those personal items.

Divisive issue

"I'm cautious to see how exactly they will implement it. If we receive any reports from exam writers that their privacy was violated or undue stress placed on them due to a need for menstrual hygiene products, we will be following up with the MCC. I sincerely hope that they appreciate that this issue is now in the public eye."

"It was surprising to me, I'll be honest," said Dr. Melanie Bechard, a pediatric resident in Ottawa, "just that in 2019, tampons could be such a divisive issue."

She completed her own exams two years ago before the #tampongate uproar. But she's heard stories from other residents about having their tampons confiscated before exam time.

"Usually you're with an examiner right in front of you, or being asked oral questions so I feel it would be very hard to bring in cheating materials," she said.

Although she found tampongate "comical," she's relieved that common sense finally prevailed.

"I think it's just a sign that medicine is changing and times are changing and I think it's incumbent upon all medical organizations to review our policies and see in this modern day and age, do they still make sense."

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