Queen’s medical students seek to open student-led health clinic

Clinic would be the first of its kind in Kingston

QMedCare students are working towards a student-run clinic.
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A group of second-year Queen’s medical students are working to create Kingston’s first student-run free health clinic.

The students plan to call the clinic QMedCare, and will seek to provide free health screenings and basic medical care to any resident in Kingston, regardless of their citizenship status or government documentation.

In an interview with The Journal, QMedCare executives, Adam Gabara, Minnie Fu, and Valera Castanov, said the primary goal of the clinic will be providing care to vulnerable populations, like immigrants, refugees, the homeless, and socioeconomically disadvantaged Kingston residents.

“These people don’t have family doctors, they don’t have health care coverage. Where else do they have to turn to?” said Gabara, the group’s director of internal affairs. “Our aim is to kind of help fill that void for them.” 

“There are people who don’t have health cards—maybe they’re visiting, maybe they’re here permanently and they haven’t gotten one yet, maybe they’re homeless and lost their documents,” Fu, director of external affairs, explained. “There are people who have issues accessing healthcare in the traditional way.”
 
The group emphasized the clinic is open to anyone who is seeking care, and that the overall objective is to fill gaps in the existing healthcare system.
 
“Even people who do have a health card, sometimes family doctors are booked up. There are people who have just moved to a new location and they don’t have a family doctor yet,” Fu continued. “So if they want to see someone right away, their only option is sometimes to go into the emergency room.”
 
‘Why not in Kingston?’
 
The idea of a student-run free health clinic isn’t a new one. 
 
A free walk-in clinic in Toronto called IMAGINE is staffed by student volunteers from the University of Toronto. It’s been operating in the Queen West neighbourhood of Toronto since 2010. With the support of volunteer healthcare professionals, students from the faculties of nursing, pharmacy, medicine, social work, and physiotherapy provide care to patients with needs ranging from wound care to medication management.
 
A similar clinic called SWITCH has been operating in Saskatoon since 2005, in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
 
Castanov, executive director of QMedCare, said he had the idea to open a clinic in Kingston while visiting one at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), in Richmond, Virginia.
 
Physical therapy students from VCU opened the Community Accessible Rehabilitative Services Clinic in 2016 to provide free physical therapy services to uninsured and underinsured people in the Richmond area.
 
“I went in there to see the clinic, and the work that they do there is absolutely phenomenal,” Castanov said. “So the question was, why not in Kingston?”
 
When Castanov returned to Kingston, he presented the idea of a student-run health clinic for a collective class project. The class of 2022 voted on which project they would pursue, and QMedCare was selected.
 
Turning an idea into a reality
 
The QMedCare executives have been in contact with the Kingston Street Health Centre, a harm reduction clinic located on Barrack St., which has agreed to provide training, supervision and a physical space for their clinic 
to operate. 
 
For now, the focus is on logistical and administrative tasks, like procuring the necessary resources and permits. The group hopes QMedCare could open its doors as early as the spring of 2020.
 
“Some of these clinics took a few years to start up, and I feel like we have a lot [fewer] barriers,” Gabara said. “Especially if we have the support of Kingston Street Health and the undergraduate medical office, I think it will come a lot quicker than that.”
 
A win-win situation
 
The Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS), of which Queen’s is a member school, published a report in 2018 that found student-led health clinics can have a significant positive impact on their community.
 
According to the CFMS report, a number of studies demonstrated that clinical services provided at these clinics can be of equal or even greater quality than regular care, in many cases demonstrating a greater level of patient satisfaction, greater compliance, increased diagnostic accuracy, and fewer return visits.
 
The report also argued student-led health clinics can have a positive effect on the overall healthcare system, as they are cost-effective and decrease hospitalization rates.
 
At the same time, medical students are provided with valuable hands-on experience, the report explained. It suggests students participating in these clinics demonstrated improved clinical knowledge, collaboration skills, attitudes towards inter-professionalism, and increased comfort with underserved populations.
 
For now, the clinic remains a dream that has yet to be realized, but for the QMedCare executives, there is a massive opportunity.
 
“There’s a lot of potential,” Gabara said. “We’re hoping that we can capitalize on that.”
 

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