Dixon couldn’t be happier. “I’m speechless. I really didn’t expect this at all,” she stated on EM TV on Thursday morning. The competition focuses on medical students who are active in society. Dixon is delighted that this competition has created so much attention for this. “More and more students are active in society and I’m really pleased about that. It’s one of the things that makes a doctor a good doctor.”

Yara Dixon
Yara Dixon Image credit: Own photo

Dixon is involved in society in a variety of ways. She developed a symptom checker to make heavy blood loss a topic people can talk about and helped organise a fundraising campaign for women who don’t have enough money for tampons or sanitary pads.

The student group Medical Students in Society (Geneeskundestudenten In De Samenleving – GIDS), founded by EUR students Jeanne Arnold, Thomas Pereira Horta and Ayça Cozar, was also in the top three. With GIDS, students are given the opportunity to experience societal problems first-hand and help resolve these. The third finalist, Coen Vulders, is from Nijmegen. Vulders’ project focuses on student mental health and helps make this a topic people feel comfortable talking about. His project included organising symposiums on depression and burn-out.

Embarrassment and taboos around periods

When Dixon wrote her master’s degree thesis on heavy menstrual blood loss, she discovered just how engrained the shame, embarrassment and taboos about heavy periods are. That’s why she produced a symptom checker, which she shared on social media. “Around one in four women have heavy periods, but what is heavy?” stated Dixon. “Supervised by doctors, I tried to produce an objective benchmark. I distributed this on social media and within Erasmus MC, and even the AD newspaper shared it. I also had the checker translated into English, Turkish and Arabic so I could reach as many women as possible.”

Modieus Stijl Gids Foto Collage
Yara created this symptom checker Image credit: Yara Dixon

Dixon also worked hard to combat period poverty. Almost ten per cent of women in the Netherlands sometimes has no money for sanitary pads. She started a fundraising campaign together with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations Rotterdam (IFMSA). There’s now a cupboard with free period products on the medical faculty. “I’ve managed to arrange for the cupboard to be restocked every two weeks, and I’ve also heard from other students who’d like to have such a cupboard in their faculty. It would be great if this started a trend.”

In the coming months, Dixon will also be focusing on providing information to healthcare providers. “Girls and women with heavy periods are currently given a pill to reduce the symptoms. But in some cases it would be better to investigate underlying factors, such as a possible blood clotting disorder. It’s also important to test for anaemia, as this can cause issues including concentration problems. So healthcare providers could improve their approach, and I hope I can do something to support that.”

Geneeskundestudenten in de Samenleving

Bestuur geneeskundestudenten in de samenleving gids
The board of GIDS Image credit: Own photo

Thomas Pereira Horta from GIDS also thinks it’s fantastic that the award has increased the focus on socially-involved medical students. “This focus is also improving all the time within the study programme,” he explained on EM TV. “People are getting more involved in community projects, and GIDS helps with this.”

Underlying factors such as poverty, illiteracy or living environment impact the health of Rotterdam citizens. That’s why the students, partly inspired by their mentor, Charles Boucher, who died earlier this year, decided to establish GIDS.

From coronavirus information to language games

Students can get active in society via twelve different projects. “These are as diverse as giving information about coronavirus vaccinations to people in different neighbourhoods to playing language games with children who have language difficulties,” stated Pereira Horta. They also connect students to projects within the curriculum. For instance, medical students can now do their social residency at a gym in Breda.

Pereira Horta is hoping to expand this to other cities in the future. “Take Amsterdam, for example; a city with many of the same social challenges facing Rotterdam, such as illiteracy. We’ve only been active a year, and we’re certainly open for new ideas and welcome new students who’d like to help.”

Geneeskundestudenten geven voorlichting over vaccinaties op de markt
Medicine students educating people about vaccinations at a market in Rotterdam Image credit: Own photo