Take charge of your health: UCL Women’s Health Week

Two women chatting and holding cups of coffee.
Two women chatting and holding cups of coffee.
Today marks the first day of UCL Women’s Health Week 2024. VPEE Student Writer, Nicole Tan, discusses some of the ways we can empower ourselves to have the knowledge and confidence to take control of our health.

Throughout history, the healthcare profession has predominantly featured a Western, male picture of patient health and professional expertise. The need for inclusive healthcare and for us to assert our medical rights is more necessary than ever because topics such as menopause, fertility and reproductive and sexual health affect people across the spectrums of biology, sex and gender. For this year’s UCL Women’s Health Week , we highlight three ways you can start taking charge of your health. 

1. Empower yourself with knowledge

Familiarising yourself with various bodily processes and risks is the most important way you can better understand your health. Having an in depth knowledge of topics like menstruation, menopause and pregnancy can help you to understand whether your experiences require attention. STI and pregnancy risks also differ depending on individual sexual and lifestyle circumstances.

Empowering yourself with knowledge about your body can take various forms - research, speaking to your GP, using helpful apps (like period trackers) or even visiting London’s Vagina Museum (which features specialised exhibitions, with a current exhibition on endometriosis) can equip you with valuable knowledge.

When speaking to a medical professional, it’s imperative to make sure that you understand their advice. Ask them questions about testing, symptoms, treatments and what options are available to you. Experiencing debilitating symptoms or pain is not something you should deal with silently; if you think something is wrong, seek help. 

2. Get tested and get help

The NHS provides free sexual health services, including consultations, cervical or STI screenings, emergency contraception and abortion. If you are sexually active, it is important to test for STIs regularly to prevent long-term negative health outcomes. If left untreated, certain STIs like chlamydia can cause infertility, and HIV or syphilis, which can be fatal if not managed early enough. Cervical screenings, like pap smears, are one of the best ways to protect yourself from cervical cancer, which can be a risk even if you haven’t had penetrative sex.

Sexual health services are also now more accessible than ever. The NHS’s Mortimer Market Sexual Health Clinic is a five-minute walk away from UCL’s main campus and provides several walk-in services. Alternatively, you can have STI testing kits discreetly delivered to your door from organisations such as  SH:24 and for Londoners. You should ask your sexual partners about their test results, and never feel forced to continue if they refuse to share them or get tested. 

3. Act as your own healthcare advocate

Regardless of gender identity, age, sex, demographic or race, you are entitled to respectful healthcare, free from judgement from your medical professional. No one understands your body better than you, so when talking to a medical professional, there needs to be honest two-way communication with mutual respect and understanding. 

Unconscious bias is still prevalent in the healthcare profession and health education, therefore you must act as your own advocate by taking note of your symptoms and asking your doctor to explain things, slow down, or for further referrals. If you notice biased, ableist or sexist language or advice from your doctor, try to speak to them about it and ask direct questions. For example, "Are there more affordable forms of contraception available?" or, "Given my drug/ allergy/ medical history, would this treatment have any other side effects?". You also have the right to change your GP for any reason and get a second opinion. 

The "one-size-fits-all-men" model which characterised medical advice and services in the past is being increasingly challenged by academics and experts who are shaping a more equitable future for healthcare provision. UCL Women’s Health Week shines a spotlight on such milestones, where ongoing research is translated into policy and practice to improve care for everyone. However, the revolution of healthcare also starts with us. You can find out more on the UCL Women’s Health week webpage to kickstart your discovery. 
  • University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT (0) 20 7679 2000