Don’t be afraid to do things yourself. Before starting my not-for-profit I had no idea I would have to learn so many new skills! Starting on such a limited budget, I decided to teach myself website design, illustration, grant writing, and filing legal documents. In the end, I gained so many amazing skills and was proud to do it myself.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tori Ford.
Tori Ford is the founder of Medical Herstory, a youth-led not-for-profit advancing gender health equity through patient advocacy, medical education, and undoing stigma. She holds an MPhil in Health, Medicine, and Society from the University of Cambridge and a BA in Gender, Sexuality, Feminist and Social Justice Studies from McGill University. She is an outspoken sexual health advocate who is passionate about empowering and educating others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Thank you so much for having me. I’m from Montreal, Canada and growing up I became really interested in sex education. My grandmother was a nurse and sex-educator so the topic was never taboo in my house. By the time I got to high school, I myself became a sex-educator at the very school where my grandmother used to work. Sex-education wasn’t required or standardized in Quebec at the time, so I had the opportunity to design and implement a curriculum that would be relevant to my peers. Then, I decided to study a BA in Gender, Sexuality, Feminist and Social Justice Studies from McGill University, which was soon followed by an MPhil in Health, Medicine, and Society from the University of Cambridge. Through these degrees, I started exploring the academic side of sexual health and further developed my passion.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Too often, our health experiences are doused in sexism, shame, and stigma which presents complex and gendered barriers in healthcare and medicine that must be dismantled. Medical Herstory, an international youth-led organization composed of over 70 volunteers, is leading the way to advance gender equity by amplifying the voices and stories of those most affected by these biases — because everyone deserves to feel cared for and listened to in the healthcare system. We want our stories, and the people sharing them, to inspire others to know they are not alone and to feel brave enough to share their own stories. Our social innovation project is breaking down barriers everyday through our online publication, workshops, events, and social media campaigns.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Medical Herstory started as an online publication in 2019, after I shared my own experience of living with chronic yeast infections in my school newspaper. I was frustrated and felt others would benefit from my story, and after sharing it I was met with so many other people who had similar experiences. A platform didn’t exist for these stories to be shared, so I created one. From there I started hosting events to tell stories out-loud and then it grew into the impactful organization that it is today.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Seeing how people responded to my story, and how they connected with it was truly the “Aha Moment.” Just realizing how many people there were out there who may have their own stories to share, and thinking about all those who would benefit from hearing these stories was enough to justify my need to start this organization.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
To put it simply, I knew that I was the person to do this work. My intention wasn’t to found a non-profit, it was simply that I felt so much passion for the topic of gender health inequity that I needed to speak out. I knew I had the drive and once these stories were resonating with people, I began to expand this project to new heights. Since then, I’ve consulted a handful of youth wanting to found non-profits and given presentations on the topic. One of the main steps for me were assembling a team with diverse perspectives and experiences, because I’m only living my own story. I had to learn to not be afraid to DIY things, I taught myself skills such as web-design, illustration, and grant writing. As a founder, you’re going to need to know how everything works and have the curiosity to want to explore it. I knew how to lead and I knew how to mobilize volunteers to create change, from my years working at a sexual violence response center. I learned how to directly support people in empathetic and trauma-informed ways, which is really at the heart of all our work.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
When I first published my story of living with chronic yeast infections, I felt empowered to talk about this taboo topic, but afraid of how others would react. I was so surprised when my classmates and friends opened up about battling the same condition. We had all thought that we were alone! This experience showed me how important it is to discuss our bodies and our health because your story can help others more than you could know.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
When we were first recruiting submissions, I had the opportunity to meet with authors to hear their stories and help them develop their narrative. I remember meeting with the author of the story that was eventually published at “Ouchie” in a local coffee shop. It was only after an hour of talking about painful sex, numbing cream, and doctors who wear pearls that we realized the coffee shop had fully cleared out, and maybe we had been discussing vaginas a little too loudly. But I have no regrets.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I worked with an amazing team at McGill’s Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support, and Education — so when I graduated, I took them with me! I invited Ashlee and Melissa to be editors for Medical Herstory because I knew we had different perspectives and our working styles complement each-other. From there, people who were passionate about our mission reached out to get involved. From there, we did formal recruitments and were lucky enough to generate a huge interest and hire extremely qualified individuals wanting to help us reach our goals.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I’m always inspired by other student activists and young people leading the charge. I think our generation is really inspirational in our tireless efforts to inspire change and speak out about the issues we care about. Our project would not be possible without all the brave individuals who have chosen to share their stories through Medical Herstory. Every time that an author thanks me for giving them a platform, or someone reads a story and tells me this is the first time they felt seen, it solidifies the importance of this cause.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The problems we are addressing: sexism, shame, and stigma are big. Therefore, they require big solutions. We tackle this problem from three dimensions. First, medical education is so important. We directly target future and current healthcare professionals about gender bias in medicine, because it takes all of us to improve patient care. Second, we promote patient advocacy by empowering young people to stand up for themselves in healthcare through our workshops and events. Third, we aim to undo stigma through public engagement. Through education, advocacy, and empowerment Medical Herstory addresses the problem of gender health inequity, and when you support our work, you do too.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t be afraid to do things yourself. Before starting my not-for-profit I had no idea I would have to learn so many new skills! Starting on such a limited budget, I decided to teach myself website design, illustration, grant writing, and filing legal documents. In the end, I gained so many amazing skills and was proud to do it myself.
- Remember that you are not your brand. Whenever you start something, it truly does become your baby and you feel very protective of it. One of the lessons I’m still learning is how to balance work and taking time off, especially when it feels like this work never ends!
- Things will go wrong! No matter how much you prepare and plan, it is inevitable that mistakes will happen and you have to learn how to go with the flow and improvise.
- Never underestimate youth! When we think about not-for-profits and businesses we always assume that’s off-limits for youth, but it’s not. Our organization is 100% youth-led and I’m so impressed with everything we have accomplished.
- Ask for help! Medical Herstory is just now starting to partner with large organizations and I wish we had done it sooner! There is a great community of feminist organizations out there.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would recommend to anyone to get involved with projects that speak to them. I would say it’s never too late to join. I only got involved with the majority of clubs I led in my last year of university!
I would especially encourage women to put themselves in leadership roles and not be afraid to try out things that might be difficult — those are often where we learn the most; you never know where these small beginnings might one day lead!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There are so many amazing youth activists I would love to learn from! We had the pleasure of hosting an event with Amika George of the Free Periods Movement last year who I would love to connect with more, and other youth activist like Maya Tutton and Gemma Tutton, and Tiara Sahar Ataii!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find us on all social medias (Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube) at @medicalherstory! You can also find all our information, take part in our events and workshops, and read our insightful stories on www.medicalherstory.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!