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Future healthcare professionals benefit from understanding the society in which they will be working, says Professor Jenny Higham, Principal of St George’s.

As well as the scientific knowledge and clinical skills to deliver outstanding healthcare, social context and constraints are vital to understand.

I have seen this throughout my career as a gynaecologist: I have studied extensively the mechanism of – and treatment options for – heavy periods, and have also seen for myself that the effects for women who experience heavy periods go beyond the physical: these women can use over 20 sanitary products a day, which can come at a significant financial cost. For women struggling to afford sanitary products, heavy periods can mean time confined at home – perhaps meaning time away from work, looking for a job or learning new skills.

Recently, the Government’s announcement that free sanitary products will be introduced in schools is a welcome development and potentially transformative to girls of school age with low-income background during menstruation. For schoolgirls experiencing the heaviest periods, which already carries a burden of embarrassment and anaemia, this provision removes the anxiety of unaffordability. I have heard first hand of strategies of taking time off school on heaviest days because of sanitary protection costs, which if happening regularly, can impede learning and see them fall behind – with knock-on effects on attainment and confidence which can last a lifetime.

At St George’s, one of our core institutional values is to be engaged with the society of which we are part – to enable students to understand this context as well as gain clinical knowledge and skills from an institutional specialising in medical and health sciences.